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Review: ‘The Longest Ride’ goes on far too long (Includes first-hand account)

Good love stories are a hot commodity in Hollywood. It doesn’t always have to be realistic because sometimes it’s the unfathomable nature of their union that makes the couple so enticing. Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers theme consistently emerges in one way or another as two people fall in love in spite of every odd betting against their success or even compatibility. Yet they persevere and audiences are treated to an ending fit for a fairy tale. Many of Nicholas Sparks‘ romance novels follow this formula and have been adapted for the screen; The Longest Ride is one more to add to the list.

Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson) is in the final semester of her arts degree in North Carolina when she meets Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood), a local bull rider eyeing the world championship. Their first date ends unexpectedly as Luke stops to rescue a man from his burning vehicle who asks Sophia to retrieve a box of mementos before they’re destroyed. Inside are love letters that date back to the 1940s when Ira (Jack Huston) met Ruth (Oona Chaplin), which Sophia offers to read to the now frail and lonely man (Alan Alda). In spite of their differences and Sophia’s plans to move to New York, the young couple inspired by Ira’s story let their hearts override their minds and fall madly in love. But those distinctions turn into obstacles as Luke wonders if he can fit into Sophia’s sophisticated world of art shows and she questions if she can handle his dangerous lifestyle.

There are two narratives told in parallel in the film. One is the present day tale of Luke and Sophia, which often resembles the cover of a Harlequin novel. Luke is an all-around cowboy who wears his best Stetson and plaid shirt for their first date, walking through campus with a bouquet of wild flowers to pick her up at her sorority house. Moreover, the bull riding events are the most exciting parts of their story, filled with practiced extras that really do make their living in the arena. The other is the account of how a young Ira and Ruth met, fell in love and stayed in love through hard times. Ruth emigrated from Vienna before the Nazis invaded and Ira spent weeks watching her from afar, too shy to approach. Ruth loved art and Ira supported her interest even though he couldn’t always appreciate or understand it. They eventually got married, but complications would threaten to drive them apart.

The flashback story-within-the-story is far more interesting than the modern day tale. Huston and Chaplin are wonderful together, and Ira and Ruth’s love story is just so much more captivating and passionate. Their tale is also aided by Alda, who infuses Ira’s memories with a romantic reverie as he recalls his time with Ruth. Conversely, Robertson and Eastwood have no chemistry. They are good looking young people, but when they’re together it’s like watching a brother and sister interact, which also makes their physical scenes somewhat uncomfortable to observe. It gets a little better near the end of the film, though most viewers will have probably checked out by then considering the movie is an unnecessary two hours and 19 minutes and they don’t even share their first kiss until the one-hour mark.

Director: George Tillman Jr.
Starring: Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson and Alan Alda

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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