Dig if you will, the picture: Two beautiful white people in a sun-dappled, bucolic slice of Americana (in this case, North Carolina farm country). They’re from opposite walks of life — she’s an art student from New Jersey, he’s a rodeo cowboy country boy (stay with me now). They meet in an unlikely circumstance, begin a tentative, tenuous romance. Forces conspire to drive them apart! One of them has a terrible secret that threatens the future of their passionate love! There’s a venerable older person who provides some wise counsel, a sudden, unexpected twist, a bit of tragedy, and then, boom! Love conquers all.
Welcome to the world of Nicholas Sparks, folks. That paragraph serves as the rough framework for literally every single one of the seventeen (!) novel’s that he’s written, eleven of which (!!) have been adapted into films. His most recent effort — and I use that word very loosely — is The Longest Ride, directed by George Tillman, Jr. (Soul Food, Faster) and starring Britt Robertson as the art-loving Sophia and Scott Eastwood (son of Clint) as the bull-riding Luke. The fact that I was led to writing those descriptions brings me no joy, people. But whatever, we’ve got to get through this mess, so let’s go crazy.
I’d love to spend some time on the plot, but there really isn’t much more to it. Sure, there’s a peculiar subplot wherein Sophia befriends a kindly old man named Ira (Alan Alda) and reads him his old love letters which, through flashbacks, tell us his tale of tempestuous romance and love conquering all (a subplot that is preeeeetty much just the Cliff Notes of The Notebook drunkenly hammered into another story). The flashbacks feature a younger Ira played by Jack Huston, and his free-spirited love Ruth, played by Oona Chaplin. But otherwise, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. They love each other, but they can’t be together because Luke won’t quit the rodeo despite his repeated injuries, and Sophia is being pulled to leave for New York City to pursue her art career. Break for a flashback where Ira tells us all about how much he loved Ruth and only wanted to make her happy. Of course, he couldn’t give her the life he wanted (GET IT? IT’S ALLEGORICAL YOU DUMMIES), and then there are Very Important Lessons to be learned.
Guys. This story is terrible. IT IS SO BAD. It’s eye-rollingly bad. I don’t know how I sat through it. The worst part is, the audience that I saw it with loved it. I mean, they ate this shit up. There were teenage girls left and right swooning like they’d pumped nerve gas into the damn theater. I wish they had, because then I could have just passed out and had an excuse not to finish this mess. At one point, someone in front of me got a phone call and got up to leave and I almost desperately grabbed their hand and I was like, “I don’t care where we go, I don’t care what we do, just take me with you.”
But no. I stayed. I endured. I did it for you people. Which is one of life’s great mysteries because I hate you all, yet I did this. I would die for you, and I don’t even know why.
Am I rambling? Because The Longest Ride has rendered me incapable of coherent thought. What else. Um, it’s very pretty. The cinematography is predictably gorgeous, if also somehow simultaneously totally generic. The direction and story is blandly predictable. The twist is telescoped from the first fifteen minutes (don’t worry, there’s no cancer for once). The entire film, with its copy-and-pasted plot, is like regurgitated oatmeal — bland, uninteresting, and just as bad the second time around.
Here’s the thing. I walked into this movie filled with dread, but also, vaguely hopeful. I mean, it’s the son of an Eastwood! And Britt Robertson is in that new future-movie with Clooney! And Alan Alda! Maybe my luck’s gonna change tonight. There’s gotta be a better life, right? More than just a constant barrage of saccharine-soaked schmaltz? Right? And you know what? I realized something at the end of The Longest ride.
I also… kind of… liked it? Wait. WAIT. DON’T YOU CLOSE THIS FUCKING WINDOW YET. Listen. Listen. I never meant to cause you any sorrow, OK? I never meant to cause you any pain. But this movie has broken me. I don’t know what happened.
OK, so the thing is this: the two leads? They’re actually really good together. Eastwood and Robertson have a natural, easygoing chemistry that is utterly charming. They’re fun to watch, even when they’re not doing fun things. And sure, all of the Sparksian touchstones are there, and that hurts — the generic plot, kissing in the rain, impulsively romantic gestures, etc., etc. But it — sometimes — works. It’s helped by the fact that Robertson is quite lovely and Eastwood is distractingly handsome (seriously, someone put a dimmer switch on that motherfucker’s smile). But they helped me not hate the experience, even if I hated the movie. Basically, I want to watch them have that same chemistry in a different movie - one that isn’t brain-grindingly terrible. It’s much akin to The Notebook, which is a horrendous movie that’s somehow rendered slightly watchable thanks to its beautiful and quite talented leads. Does that make sense? I don’t know. What can I say. The beautiful ones. They hurt you every time.
I feel like something is broken inside me now. Somebody please tell me what the hell is wrong. Because while I don’t think you should see this movie, I also don’t absolutely despise it. It had a couple of moments of joy. Maybe I’m just comparing everything to Safe Haven, an experience that made me want to burn down the theater. Maybe I’ve lost all perspective. Maybe I don’t even know how to watch a movie anymore. But that’s what The Longest Ride did to me. It made me stick up for a movie that I know, deep in my bones, is terrible. I don’t know. I’ve been drinking. I gotta go drink some more. Don’t see The Longest Ride, you guys. Or do. Whatever works for you. Thank you for a funky time. I’ll see you next week, when I’ve regained the sanity I lost while watching this movie.