The best thing I can say about the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Longest Ride is that I was never bored for a second. The worst I can say is that the movie is painfully cliched, poorly written, and so ethically skewed that I take strong umbrage to its message. That being said, this movie is not for me even in the slightest, and I get the feeling that people for whom this film was made ARE GOING TO LOVE IT. Let's start with the basics: Sophia (Britt Robertson) is a city girl who is attending college in the south where she meets Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood), a professional bull rider. They hit it off right away, but Sophia is hesitant to take it too seriously since she's moving back to New York in a few months. One night, after a date, she and Luke stumble across a car wreck where the elderly Ira Levinson (Alan Alda) is trapped. They free Ira from the wreckage and bring he and his possessions to the hospital. Among those possessions is a box filled with letters to his late wife, which he values greatly but, due to failing vision, is no longer able to read. Sophia volunteers to read the letters* to him and wouldn't you know it, a Nicholas Sparks movie happens. As Sophia learns more about Ira's life, parallels to her own circumstances are drawn, and I just. Don't. Care.
It's easy to see why this particular novel was chosen for the big screen treatment. By depicting both present day and classic old timey romances, the filmmakers get to play with a variety of filmic styles. As such, The Longest Ride is generally a success. The present day sections have a crisp digital look (and some of the bull riding sequences are downright impressive), while the flashbacks have a muted, quaint feel. The low quality WWII segment notwithstanding, it's clear that the director was making artistic choices as opposed to just pointing a camera, which is something of a luxury in this genre.
Sadly, the directing is about the only thing that The Longest Ride has going for it in the objective sense. The acting, outside of Alan Alda and his flashbacks, ranges from mediocre to atrocious. Scott Eastwood, despite constantly conjuring the image of his father, is about as charismatic as a rubber glove. Perhaps he's too much in the shadow of his old man (who was a muuuuch cooler cowboy), or maybe it's just that he was given nothing to work with. Luke is the male equivalent of Bella from the Twilight series - a blank slate onto which to project whatever needs projecting.
Britt Robertson is an uncomfortable actress to watch. She constantly has the look of having just brushed her teeth and taken a glug of Orange juice. This isn't me making fun of her looks - she's very attractive - but more making fun of her energy. She just seems agitated, even when she's supposed to be elated. Drinking game: take a shot every time Sophia makes a strange noise in conversation instead of speaking. You'll be hammered within the first 20 minutes, I promise.
Also, I found it hard to buy their romance. Especially when played against the flashback romance (which is still pretty cliched) between young Ira (Jack Huston) and his wife (Oona Chaplin). Sure, the flashback sequences are naturally given a bit more leeway due to the generally accepted stereotype of old-timeyness, but the performances here are miles better than anything in the present day story. I believe that Ira's marriage was filled with love. Conversely, Luke and Sophia don't seem to be interested in each other for any reason outside of the script saying so.
Despite being the superior portion of the movie, the flashback sequences still feel undercooked. For example, a lot of the drama comes from Ira and his wife being unable to have kids. My first thought was that they should try to adopt, but the script states "adoption was difficult in those days" as an explanation. Well, that's not good enough. Try harder! Why was it so difficult? Because the script needed it to be, that's why. Lame.
Another weird thing that bothered me about this movie was the makeup. Far be it from me to have any sort of opinion on makeup outside of An American Werewolf in London, but when literally every actor in the film is glowing orangey yellow, I can't help but notice. I found myself lost in the idea that I could scrape a fingernail down any actor's face and pull a chunk of paste clean off.
Perhaps the biggest issue I had with The Longest Ride was the message. If we push aside the garden variety Sparksisms (love conquers all, stand by your significant other, old people die), the message is terrible. I won't go into anything spoilery, but I'm curious to hear if other folks were as agitated by this as me. The film consistently rewards extremely poor decisions, and has the most "are you effing kidding me?" deus ex machina device I've seen in ages. Basically, if you do the wrong thing, do it in the name of love, and then money happens.
Personally, I would have loved The Longest Ride had it dipped into "so bad it's good" territory, but that's selfish of me. As I said before, I am definitely not the audience for this kind of thing. Even so, it wasn't a dull movie by any means. It was a decent enough way to spend an evening, which is good news for my brother-in-law, who will no doubt be forced to watch this by my sister, who is EXACTLY WHO THIS MOVIE IS FOR.
*why Ira was sending his wife simple descriptions of their life together is unexplained and unexplainable.
The Longest Ride opens in Philadelphia area theaters today.