Maybe I’m just a bitter person who hates any kind of romantic film, or maybe I’m just tired of the fact that the romantic movie genre has basically turned into perpetual adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels. “The Longest Ride” is the newest in the plethora of Sparks films. What makes this film different from the others? Practically nothing. In all honesty, it really is just a different cast and a slightly tweaked familiar plotline.
Meet Sophia Danko (played by Britt Robertson): an attractive 20-something from the Northeast who has somehow managed to find herself living in a sorority house in a North Carolina university. Sophia is supposed to be smart and passionate about art, since her room is decorated from ceiling to floor in posters of paintings. However, beyond gushing every once in a while about the importance of art to her romantic interest, Luke (played by Scott Eastwood), Sophia’s character remains largely one-dimensional for the film’s two-hour runtime. Luke is even duller: with a one-track mind for bull riding, Luke is willing to make it to the top of the professional bull-riding world, even if it kills him (a threat that looms over him in the whole film, but for some reason the sense of danger never seems truly credible).
The two lovers meet and supposedly have an instant connection — although the actors’ depiction of their chemistry is far from convincing. Sophia hesitates to begin a relationship with Luke because she will be graduating from college soon and will eventually move to New York for an important internship. Of course, these young lovers cannot keep their eyes away from each other after a victim from a car crash, Ira (played by Alan Alda), draws them together. Ira is a snarky old man — perhaps the only character with any personality — who is unable to read a collection of precious letters written to his deceased wife, Ruth (played by Oona Chaplin).
Although letters are an overused plot device for Nicholas Sparks’ narratives, these letters successfully convey the relationship between Ira and Ruth while also inviting the audience to make connections to the budding romance between Sophia and Luke. But the Ruth-Ira romance ends up being far from secondary. As we learn about them through the letters, Ruth and Ira develop into richer and more likeable characters than Sophia and Luke: We see their perseverance through World War II, their infertility and other hardships. The very fact that Ira and Ruth were able to suffer and succeed through these trials makes them many times more compelling than the film’s main characters. As a result, Sophia and Luke become quite annoying by the end of the film; their relationship seems shallow at best, and the thought that Sophia would even consider rejecting her internship to stay with Luke seems entirely unbelievable.
The film’s flaws are just part of an endless supply of perfectly predictable moments that range from the introduction of the relationship, to the first sexual encounter, to the inevitable first fight. It seems that the director, George Tillman Jr., wished to simply embrace every single cliche of the romance genre, eliminating any semblance of creativity from his dirrecting. Perhaps this is a symptom of how poorly this novel was written, leaving no room for creative influence over the narrative.
Even when it comes to the other adaptations of Sparks novels, “The Longest Ride” does not even come close to being one of the better works (which is already a low bar to begin with). This film does little in guiding the emotional response of the viewer, seemingly hoping that we will like the two main characters without any effort from the actors or the director. Even the ending feels contrived: It seems as though it was born out of a realization that the film had gone on long enough, rather than a desire to let the story end in an organic way.
The saddest thing about all of this is that no matter what this review states, the key demographic of hopeless romantics and Sparks enthusiast will still arrive in hordes to see this film. In fact, my theater alone contained an abundance of people waiting with popcorn to cry and sniffle trhough the film. Perhaps this review can prevent those who were willing to kill an afternoon watching “The Longest Ride” to switch to watching something else — really, anything else would be better. This film will only leave you with the feeling that you yourself suffered the longest ride; after all, this is the longest Nicholas Sparks movie to date.
My only hope is that one day, Nicholas Sparks will realize that instead of pushing out novels and films every other year to make more money, his writing and influence is better spent producing higher quality work. After all, the romance genre does not need to be cliche in order to make money. Until that day occurs, I will spend my time wondering why people even bother spending money to continue watching the same film over and over again.