“Love requires sacrifice…always”.
It’s been a long ride, and after riding the wave of The Notebook for over a decade, Nicholas Sparks can rest assured that the newest cinematic adaptation of one of his infamously familiar romance novels isn’t a complete dud, and that is saying a lot.
Throughout the year, audience members expect to see certain films on the silver screen; Halloween brings forth a new Paranormal, or Purge; summer brings us a new Marvel action tentpole, while Valentine’s Day usually brings us another Nicholas Sparks romance. Sadly, while many would have loved to see this film on Valentine’s Day instead of the widely popular Fifty Shades of Grey, The Longest Ride was pushed for a release in April, just in time for…spring?
The unfortunate fate of a Nicholas Sparks romance film is that, most of the times, they never really have to be as bad as they usually are. While The Notebook seems to be the mecca of Sparks’ novels and films with critics and audience members, his track record is usually mediocre at best, with many awful variations. With last year’s The Best of Me, the film brought a whole new low to the Sparks canon, barely making an effort to conceal a slight age difference but obvious physical maturity difference between its two young leads. Thankfully, The Longest Ride casts two vibrant and talented actors to bring their characters and most importantly, chemistry to life.
While you could guess that every Sparks romance involves two parallel love stories, a dark personal secret, a past and present rendering, a World War II reference, an infamous scene in the rain, and very noticeable slices of Americana, The Longest Ride only fulfills half of the typical Sparks criteria, allowing the film itself to play on a fresher slate than half a dozen of his previously adapted films.
This time around, we are introduced to the eclectic and cultured Sophia (Britt Robertson), a young and beautiful woman studying in North Carolina on a full scholarship. Chasing her dream of becoming an art curator in the Big Apple, Sophia closes herself off from her large sorority along with any distractions that could come her way, especially when she finds herself blending into the country culture of North Carolina. Forced to accompany her friend Marcia (Melissa Benoist) to a bull-riding competition full of cute cowboys, Sophia agrees to take some time away from studying, seeing that she only has two months left of school before she moves to New York for an internship she’s accepted in a prestigious gallery. While her time at the competition seems filled only with her friends, Sophia is quickly given the attention of all-around American cowboy and competitive bull rider Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood).
What begins as an innocent night at the local saloon after Luke’s graceful win that places him thirty-sixth in the world, turns into a romantic date with take out food and a perfect scenic background for the two. While Luke exercises every opportunity to be a gentleman, on the ride back home to Sophia’s sorority, Luke and Sophia stumble across a car afire through a guard-rail in a ditch of a side road. While Luke pulls out an unconscious elderly man, Sophia pulls out a box filled with the man’s most prized possessions. Staying with the man overnight at the hospital, Sophia and Ira (Alan Ida) begin a special friendship blossomed from Sophia’s willingness to read Ira his letters back to home, remembering his memories of his deceased wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin). While the similarities of young Ira (Jack Huston) and Ruth’s life beg to make their way into Sophia and Luke’s relationship, the young couple begin to question the route of their lives and the acceptance of whether or not they are meant to be.
With any good Sparks film, there is always an independent director trying to reinvent them self for a career in the mainstream. Luckily this time around, George Tillman Jr. was the man responsible for directing Sparks latest, and like Lasse Hallstrom, the director at the helm of Safe Haven and Dear John, as well as other very successful light-hearted fares including Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and most recently The Hundred-Foot Journey, Tillman Jr. continues Hallstrom’s tradition of executing successful romance without ever down playing its cliched niche and obvious narrative directions.
Tillman Jr. does some of the best work with his actors in creating very real yet idealized characters within Sparks’ world. The Longest Ride may be the longest running Sparks adaptation but is also, next to The Notebook, the best casted. Robertson and Eastwood beg for genuine sympathy for their struggles as a new couple without ever being overbearing. Many of their relationship conflicts could easily be understood and accepted by a modern day audience, especially those of the younger demographic. With social media and apps like OKCupid, Plenty of Fish, and Lava Life trying to base relationships on compatibility, The Longest Ride glorifies the very truthful reality that sometimes relationships aren’t based on similarities. The film exposes a world that confirms sometimes opposites attract – a notion many young people need to begin to accept.
Although many might complain of its duration, The Longest Ride (no pun intended) does also showcase one of the Sparks cannon’s best flashbacks since The Notebook. Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin, playing young versions of the experienced couple Ira and Ruth, bring the idea of Southern hospitality and narrative comfort back into the tired genre.
Much like the career of M. Night Shayamalan, I don’t think audiences will ever get a Sparks adaptation that will be better than The Notebook, while other films like A Walk to Remember and The Longest Ride will continue to satisfy audiences, begging to never see iterations that are closer to the flat and tired Safe Haven and The Last Song side of things.
While you can always be sure that whatever World War II scene Sparks depicts the film will never have a large enough budget to show a grand scope of action or production value to that scene, The Longest Ride will surely satisfy die-hard fans and casual cinema goers without much of a fuss. Expect the cliched, expect trademark romantic genre film tropes, and in this case specifically, expect your female companion to fall in love with a cowboy. Better dust off those cowboy boots that creepy uncle once bought you gents, southern chivalry will surely make a comeback once she sees this one.
Night Film Reviews: 7.5 Out of 10 Stars.
Is The Longest Ride one of the better Sparks adaptations? Or Worse? How’s the chemistry? Did you fall in love all over again or beg for it to be over? Let us know what you think of The Longest Ride below.