“The Longest Ride” is the latest adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, an adaptation that feels pretty much like every other Sparks adaptation.
The formula has proven to be successful in terms of box office, but it’s still not translated when it comes to quality. This is your standard romantic drama, with a checklist of the genre’s cliches peppering the film’s way too long 139-minute running time.
Scott Eastwood, son of Clint Eastwood, stars as Luke, a champion bull rider looking to make a comeback after suffering a nearly career-ending spill.
Luke meets Sophia (Britt Robertson), a college student about to take an internship at a New York art studio. The two begin a relationship that seems to be growing despite their different worlds. But Luke’s desire to return to bull riding leads to conflict that begins to strain the relationship.
Since this is a Sparks adaptation, “The Longest Ride” is more than just the story of Luke and Sophia. There is a parallel story involving a man named Ira (Alan Alda), whom the couple find passed out in his wrecked car during their first date.
Ira and Sophia strike up a friendship after the accident, with Ira sharing love letters written to his wife Ruth. This plot device sets up plenty of flashbacks involving a young Ira (Jack Huston) and young Ruth (Oona Chaplin) and how their relationship evolved.
If “The Longest Ride” had focused more on Ira and Ruth, then it could have at least been passable. Their story is the more organic of the two, including strains in the relationship when Ira goes to fight in World War II and how the inability to have children adds more strain.
These moments are meant to provide Luke and Sophia with reference points in their own relationship, but only serve to show how bland their story really is. The flashback story also sets up a final act that proves to be unintentionally hilarious, which sadly seems to be another trait in Sparks’ adaptations.
Eastwood and Robertson do have a bit of chemistry, but it’s not enough to offset a plot that just throws in roadblocks for the sake of forwarding the story.
And some of those blocks paint Luke in such a negative light, it gets hard to understand why Sophia would stick around in this relationship.
Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, gives a much better performance, one that I’m not sure a movie like this deserves.
Chaplin, and to an extent Alda, are enough to keep “The Longest Ride” from being totally dreadful, but it’s not enough to keep it from being another Sparks adaptation that leaves a lot to be desired.
Opening this week
Arriving in Bowling Green after a limited run in other markets the last few weeks is the latest from writer/director Noah Baumbach.
“While We’re Young” (B) – a film that manages to succeed yet disappoint at the same time.
“Young” features a great cast with a great idea, but an idea that is never fully realized.
It’s a payoff not worthy of the film’s very good opening half.
In “While We’re Young” Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play Cornelia and Josh – a childless middle-age couple at a crossroads.
As their other friends take the plunge into parenthood, Cornelia and Josh strike up a friendship with a mid-20s couple, Jamie and Darby (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried).
Like Josh, Jamie aspires to be a documentary filmmaker, giving the new friends a common bond.
At first the friendship gives Cornelia and Josh a spark to their lives, but things turn sour when Josh begins to suspect that Jamie might be using him to get his career going.
Baumbach’s two best films – “Frances Ha” and “Greenberg” – are films that capture the angst of the characters in a fresh and honest way.
That element is in play here, with Cornelia and Josh the perfect vessels for Baumbach to comment on the struggles of coping with growing older.
Stiller and Watts are both very good, as are Driver and Seyfried.
The performances are so good that it’s kind of a letdown when the film’s payoff can’t match the setup, which features some really sharp and funny writing.
As the story gravitated towards a rather predictable final act, I found myself wishing Baumbach’s script could have stayed the course – or at least given these characters a better send-off.
Sure, the final scene provides a bit of closure, but it just isn’t up to the level of everything that came before.
“While We’re Young” is still good enough to make it worth your time, but it falls short of the memorable level of “Frances Ha” or “Greenberg.”
“While We’re Young” is rated R for language and opens Friday at the Regal Bowling Green Stadium 12.