April 17, 2015

The Longest Ride

Every Nicholas Sparks movies summed up in a single pic 

Grade: C +
Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood, Alan Alda, Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hr. 8 min.

Like the comfort food discussed during The Longest Ride, Nicholas Sparks’ books—and the movies they spawn—are steeped in sentimental appeal. There are two nostalgic founts in this latest film adaptation: Sparks’ usual bucolic Southern setting, bounded this time by a Gatsby-esque vision of life in North Carolina during the roaring 1920s that segues into the surface tranquility of Eisenhower-era America.

The thread running through these dual timelines is the typical Sparks formula: an adorable couple falls in and temporarily out of love, then overcomes obstacles to reunite happily ever after while the audience is left to cope with the body count.

She is Sophia (Britt Robertson), an art-history student at Wake Forest University who slips on boots and goes slumming for cowboys one weekend. He is Luke (Scott Eastwood), a stetson-wearing, pickup truck-driving professional bull rider attempting to win the national championship after a near-fatal injury a year ago. “I want a cowboy!” squeals Sophia’s sorority sister when hunky Luke later arrives to take Sophia on a date and, in Sparks’ world view, rescue her from cloistered academic elitism.

On the way, Luke and Sophia happen up a burning car wreck and save the elderly driver, Ira Levinson (Alan Alda). In the passenger seat is a basket of decades-old letters written by Ira (played as a younger man by Jack Huston) to his departed wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin). As Sophia’s hospital visits become sessions of “Letters with Ira,” the flashbacks of Ira and Ruth’s sephia-soaked, persevering love supposed informs Luke and Sophia’s seeming mismatch.

The Longest Ride is the tenth film adaptation of a Sparks novel. But while most of the author’s books are set in North Carolina, this is the fourth actually filmed in the Tar Heel state—shooting locales include Wilmington and the Triad area. There is also a subplot involving Ira and Ruth’s visit to Black Mountain College, an actual, now defunct experimental liberal arts commune in western NC with a history that’s worth a Wikipedia search.

There’s an earnestness hovering throughout the film that’s difficult to deride. Ira and Ruth’s lifelong romance is the alternate inspiration for the film’s title beyond the 8 seconds needed for a successful bull ride. But while director George Tillman Jr. lends a taut energy to his depictions of the bull-riding circuit, that touch doesn’t extend to Luke and Sophia’s lynchpin dalliance. Full of cliched challenges and incredulous resolutions, their coupling is typical Sparks pap. Ira and Ruth’s story doesn’t really dictate the outcome of Luke and Sophia in the context of the narrative, save for a ridiculous “pay off” in the film’s climax.

Tillman instead seeks to reflect the nostalgia of second-generation casting—Clint Eastwood’s son is the chiseled Luke, while John Huston’s grandson and Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter play the younger Ira and Ruth. But that’s hardly enough to stomach this corn-filled comfort food.

No comments: