No cliche goes untouched and no emotion unexploited

by Steve Pulaski

Director George Tillman, Jr. is responsible for several contemporary urban comedies that provide pleasant humanization of tight-knit black communities, such as the Barbershop trilogy, the incredibly underrated Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, and even the biopic on The Notorious B.I.G.. This fact makes it all the more perplexing to try and figure out why Tillman would want to direct a frothy, Nicholas Sparks romance film set in the backdrop of fantasy land where all the characters are well-off, white caricatures that find themselves in incredibly contrived and picturesque situations.

Thus is The Longest Ride, another entry in the tired line of Nicholas Sparks film adaptations that leave no cliche untouched and no emotion unexploited. This time around the story concerns Sophia Danko (Britt Robertson), a driven art student in North Carolina, looking to obtain an internship in the fall in New York City. On a night out with her girlfriend at a rodeo, Sophia meets a professional bull-rider named Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood), a dashing young gent who is a southern romantic at heart. He treats her with the respect and kindness she has come to expect but never expected and is smitten with his schoolboy charm.

The Longest Ride
Directed by
George Tillman Jr.
Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Alan Alda
Release Date
10 April 2015
Steve’s Grade: D

On the way home from their first date (a tablecloth picnic overlooking beautiful scenery because this film might as well be a postcard in terms of realism), they spot a car that has driven through a guardrail and off the road. In an act of instinct, Luke pulls an unconscious old man from the vehicle with Sophia rescuing an old wicker basket just before the car is engulfed in flames. The old man’s name is Ira (Alan Alda), and the basket houses a barrage of letters that he wrote to his late wife Ruth. Ira grew up during the World War II days and had to make a huge personal sacrifice to be with the one he loved unconditionally, deciding between his own mental health and their love, with Ruth deciding whether or not she could continue to make their relationship work. Now, in present day, Sophia must decide whether or not to go along with her internship or stay behind with Luke, who must decide whether or not to pursue his bull-riding career through one traumatic injury after another.

The first problem with most Nicholas Sparks films is that they take two potentially thoughtful stories and mesh them together to create a romance amalgamation. What usually unfolds from that is one large film that undermines the potential of its two rich stories by squandering themes for cheap sentimentality, emphasizing the attributes of far-fetched romance, and creating one obvious setup after another that sets itself so far apart from reality you’d swear you’re watching science-fiction.

Sparks films and novels are as much of a brand as Marvel and Tyler Perry films. They aren’t for those seeking any kind of realistic portrayal of human behavior; audiences go to have their emotions tickled with the idea of true love and the sacrifices people can make to maintain such strong feelings and connection. For the rest of us, we get a film that desperately plods along for over two hours, occasionally hitting narrative highs when it focuses on the World War II days of Ira and Ruth, but descending back into pitiful lows when we focus on their younger counterparts. It is then when The Longest Ride stalls mercifully with several romance cliches that it makes you wonder why even its fanbase succumbs to such low-grade, lackluster trite.

Finally, while the film’s ending isn’t quite on par with the nonsensical Safe Haven, it’s still on the same level of ludicrous to the point where far-fetched can’t even describe it accurately.