Nicholas Sparks, the John Grisham of modern day Mills and Boone, churning out his soppy romance novels and counting his squillions when millions of people by them and millions more buy tickets to the adapted movies. That being said I have to be honest, I loved THE NOTEBOOK, enjoyed Chan Chan in DEAR JOHN and lapped up my Zac in THE LUCKY ONE. This is more of the same, in fact it looks pretty much like THE NOTEBOOK with different surrounds and characters, you know the ending already but you will still love it. From Kernel Morgan’s fine review below I believe you will need tissues and you will need to leave your partner at home so you can drool over Scott Eastwood. THE LUCKY ONE is out today thanks to 20th Century Fox, it runs for 128mins and is rated M. Enjoy Morgan’s review……all the best……JK.
BY MORGAN BELL
THE LONGEST RIDE is the latest Nicholas Sparks novel adapted to film. You know Sparks from MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, A WALK TO REMEMBER, THE NOTEBOOK, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE, and DEAR JOHN. There is obviously a theme with these stories, drippingly sentimental romance. These movies have a certain audience, generally speaking they are ‘chick flicks’, but their wider success is dependent on the story itself and the performances of the lead actors.
The female lead, Sophia, is played by Britt Robertson (TRIPLE DOG, DELIVERY MAN). The male lead, Luke, is played by Scott Eastwood (FURY, GRAN TORINO), who is perhaps more famous for being Clint Eastwood’s son. The leads do well with the material, and they have chemistry. The styling of Sophia was off. She is the child of immigrant parents, raised in New Jersey, always the odd one out, and taking strange foreign food to school. Someone with the surname Danko (probably Hungarian or Czech) who is a liberal arts major, with a working class background, should have looked edgy and unique like a Shannyn Sossamon, Jenna Malone, or Eva Green. Sophia is as a career-driven book-worm, and contemporary art lover, that is styled like a generic mid-western cheerleader. The premise is that Luke likes Sophia because she is different. I desperately wanted to pull her hair up into a messy bun and give her some bold lipstick or a tattoo or something distinguishing.
Luke is perfectly smouldering. His obligatory shirtless scenes reveal a surprisingly ripped body. He is a tall long-legged thing so you expect him to be lean, but he is as defined as a young Brad Pitt in THELMA & LOUISE. Luke is a fourth generation cattle rancher and bull-rider, native to North Carolina, where the film is set. Sophia is in North Carolina as a senior in college, having been awarded a scholarship. Luke is always clothed like a cowboy, complete with cowboy hat and boots and a giant belt buckle. There is an amusing scene when he first visits Sophia at her sorority house on campus and turns the head of nearly every student as he strides across the grounds. Eastwood really brings the man-factor to this film, he has beautiful smile lines and fits the strong silent archetype, just like his father.
The Luke and Sophia mis-matched lovers storyline is intersected and paralleled by the flashbacks of the elderly Ira Levinson (Alan Alda) whom Luke pulls from a burning car crash. Sophia saves a box of old letters from the crash. Ira Levinson (because Sparks couldn’t think of a more Jewish name) reflects on his romance with Ruth (Oona Chaplin, QUANTUM OF SOLACE), who’s family emigrated from Austria to North Carolina during WW2 to escape Jewish persecution. Sophia reads Ira’s letters to him as he is recovering from his injuries in hospital, but the flashbacks are narrated with Alan Alda’s voice.
The story of Ira and Ruth takes place in the 1940s and is the stronger of the two stories. It is a story of enduring unconditional love that requires sacrifice and compromise. Suffering a sustained fever due to an infected war wound, Ira is rendered infertile, and the couple encounter barriers to adoption. Ruth tries to content herself with teaching children and collecting art, but is essentially dissatisfied with not being able to give her motherly love to a child. This is the story that will make you cry. I was not prepared for how deeply sad Ira’s story would be.
Trying to run two or more parallel stories from different time periods has been attempted many times over in the movie world. It is a feat easier to achieve on paper than on the screen. One of the biggest difficulties is interlinking the stories in a meaningful way. Some films that have attempted this and fallen short include POSSESSION, THE LAKE HOUSE, and CLOUD ATLAS. However it has been done well in films like THE HOURS, THE FOUNTAIN, SAVING MR BANKS, and BIG FISH.
In THE LONGEST RIDE the two stories do overlap in some superficial ways, but thematically it is a fail. Sophia and Ruth are both relocated to North Carolina and both interested in contemporary art, and that is where the similarity ends. The love of art isn’t particularly transforming for any of the characters, it just gives them a common place; the Black Mountain College, for the two couples to frolic around in.
Luke is driven by pride and tradition and is uncompromising up until the very end. He basically gets to have his cake and eat it too with no real consequences. He is chasing fame and glory at the expense of everyone else in his life. Luke hinges his identity, and his sense of worth and belonging, to his occupation, like a more commercially packaged version of Richard Gere in AN OFFICER & GENTLEMAN or Mickey Rourke in THE WRESTLER.
Ira is a truly selfless man whose passion is the happiness of Ruth. Ira participates in war, putting himself on the line to save his fellow man. He works a humble job, takes a genuine interest in Ruth’s passion for art, and fosters an underfed neglected child, all without asking for anything in return. For all of Ira’s lessons about love and sacrifice, neither Sophia nor Luke really give up anything other than earning potential. The value of meeting Ira is literally a dollar figure in the end.
This movie made me think about Clint Eastwood and the appeal of his iconic characters. Clint was about rugged individualism, non-conformity to societal norms, and bucking against authority.
In THE LONGEST RIDE Scott Eastwood’s character is all about maintaining old-school tradition. He rides bulls because that’s all he’s ever known. He lives on a ranch because that’s what everyone he’s ever know has done. He brings flowers, plans a real dinner date, and won’t let a lady pay for a drink. He is in a rigid little box with no motivation to break out and challenge the system. The character is defeatist and scared.
Luke to Sophia: “All bull riders get hurt. It’s not if, it’s when.”
The strongest personality in this film is Ruth. She likes art that breaks all the rules and has a general lust for life. She is playful and vivacious, and relishes being alive. All in a time where husbands bought houses without consulting their wives, and women were carried over the front stoop.
Ruth to Ira: “Are you ever going to talk to me? I always see you there lurking around.”
THE LONGEST RIDE reinforces the idea that young people now are less rebellious and less hopeful than the previous generation.