The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Longest Ride

It's hard to know whether to criticize Nicholas Sparks or admire him. The author has found what works, and he doesn't deviate from it. His stories are all largely the same, with only the specific details changed from one to the next. They all involve star-crossed lovers facing some kind of obstacle (illness, war, severe weather conditions, etc.) that impedes their romance. Someone usually dies at the end. This tearjerker formula has brought him untold success in the book world, and almost as much in the film world. The Longest Ride is the latest movie adapted from one of his works. Does it shake up the formula? Nope!

Britt Robertson plays Sophia Danko, a college student in North Carolina. She's planning to move to New York City for a big internship in the art world that she hopes will jump start her career. Coerced by her sorority sisters, she attends a bull riding competition one night. It is here that she meets Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood), a champion rider. They start a flirtation, eventually falling madly in love with each other. One rainy night as they drive home from a date, they pass a car that has run off the road. Luke rescues the man inside, Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), while Sophia salvages the box of letters in his front seat. She shows up to the hospital every day to read Ira's letters, which recount his love affair with his late wife. Meanwhile, Luke wonders how he and Sophia will make their own relationship work, given that they come from such different worlds.

The Longest Ride is really two stories in one. The first story isn't too bad. It's about a college girl with cosmopolitan dreams who falls for a cowboy who doesn't want to leave the ranch. Robertson and Eastwood have nice chemistry together, and there are some interesting developments in the characters' romance. One of the best scenes finds Luke putting on a suit and tie to attend an upscale art exhibit, only to realize that he really doesn't fit into this scene. There's nothing earthshaking here, but it's a fairly sweet and compelling look at how, as one person puts it, love requires sacrifice.

The second story is the one that causes problems. It keeps intruding on the story of Sophia and Luke. Every time their tale really starts to generate steam, The Longest Ride switches over to flashbacks showing the history of young Ira (Jack Huston) and the life he shared with his beloved Ruth (Oona Chaplin). The film tries to draw certain parallels between Sophia/Luke and Ira/Ruth, but the latter story is presented merely as highlights (or lowlights) from their time together. For that reason, the bond between them never feels as authentic as the one taking place in present day. It's distractingly disjointed because it jumps around over the course of several years. So you have one story that kind of works, but is continually interrupted by one that doesn't. That has the effect of keeping The Longest Ride from ever achieving the meaning and relevance it so clearly aims for.

There are some pleasures to be found, for sure. All the performances are good, with Britt Robertson (Cake) once again proving herself a promising young actress. Eastwood, who looks like a younger version of his father Clint, is believable as a good ol' country boy, and Alan Alda classes everything up, as he always does. Although it's a bit of an inhumane sport, the scenes showing what it's like in the world of professional bull riding are fascinating, as well.

The Longest Ride has some quality stuff, but it also has that annoying second story that doesn't deliver much, outside of a laughably hard-to-swallow twist in the final ten minutes. There's enough going on in the tale of Sophia and Luke that we really don't need to hear about Ira and Ruth. Then again, Sparks knows his formula, and he's sticking to it, no matter what.

( out of four)

The Longest Ride is rated PG-13 for some sexuality, partial nudity, and some war and sports action. The running time is 2 hours and 8 minutes.

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