The Longest Ride (George Tillman, Jr., 2015)
What, oh what, is young Miss Britt Robertson doing in this movie? With co-stars such as Scott Eastwood (son of Clint), Jack Huston (grandson of John) and Oona Chaplin (granddaughter of Charles) – not to mention Alan Alda, who is his own pedigree, at this point – she stands out simply by virtue of being unconnected to any legacy. Thank goodness she’s in the film, however, as she gives the most winning (and natural) performance of the lot. Perhaps she can soon have children of her own who will then, years from now, star in films, too, and be less interesting than their mother (or grandmother).
What, also, is George Tillman, Jr., doing as the director of this movie? One of Hollywood’s rare (though a little less rare than in the past) African-American directors, he is best known for 1997’s Soul Food, a film steeped in African-American culture and with an all-black cast. Yet here he is making a film set in North Carolina with an all-white cast, in which rodeo bull riding plays a major role. And it’s all based on a novel by Nicholas Schmaltz … I mean … Sparks. How white can you get, story-wise? Which fact, actually, makes the film a little more interesting than it deserves to be. Perhaps we can take this as a step in the (right) direction of color-blind directing. True, the movie is pretty ridiculous, but more power to Tillman for making it.
Robertson (Cake) plays Sophia, an art major and senior at Wake Forest University who meets cute and falls in love with Luke – played by Eastwood (Walk of Fame) – a star rodeo rider (and rancher) recently recovered from a serious head injury. They have nothing in common, yet are irresistibly drawn to each other by the powers of chemistry and Hollywood casting. Robertson is adorable (if a little generically blonde), and Eastwood is the spitting image (only hunkier) of his famous Dad, so it does not strain credibility to imagine that they are hot for each other. What does require a suspension of disbelief, however, is accepting Lolita Davidovich (Blaze – remember her?) as Luke’s mother (though she is certainly beautiful enough to have produced him). She has city written all over her (nothing wrong with that) and does not, in anyway, look like she belongs on a farm or ranch.
Anyway, on the way home after their first date, they rescue an elderly man from a car crash and take him to the hospital. Meet Ira, played by the great – if here very hammy – Alda (“M*A*S*H“). Soon, Sophia is spending time with Ira and reading, out loud to him (his eyesight is poor), letters he once wrote to his now-deceased wife, Ruth. These lead us into flashbacks, in which Alda miraculously morphs into Jack Huston. Neither men are Jewish, so you can be the judge of how silly they each look in yarmulkes, but one thing is certain, which is that they look nothing like each other (Alda has Italian ancestry, Huston’s grandmother was an Italian model, and there is a long history of Italians and Jews playing each other in film, so there’s that). However, this kind of gene-pool randomness happens all the time in films. The real problem is the letters, themselves, as well as the awkward and forced juxtaposition of Ira’s and Ruth’s story with Sophia’s and Luke’s. Each letter reads as if it were crafted by the screenwriter specifically as expositional voiceover narration, rather than as an actual piece of correspondence between two lovers. No one writes missives that break down, in such detail, events that have been shared by both parties. No one. Only in a (bad) movie.
It’s in the past that we meet Chaplin (Talisa Maegyr on “Game of Thrones“), as Ruth, and she is fine enough, if saddled with an unfortunate Austrian accent. She’s supposed to be Ira’s Sophia – art lover to his philistine – though the chemistry between Chaplin and Huston is virtually nonexistent. By the end, the love stories come to their (mostly) happy conclusion (this is Sparks, after all, he of The Notebook fame), and we struggle to remember much of what we’ve seen. Since each parallel story needs to justify its existence, the film drags on far longer than I had patience for, expounding on plot contrivances that merely served to justify the title: this is, indeed, one long ride.