There’s no truth in “The Longest Ride.” There’s no truth in the personalities, no truth in the relationships, no truth in the back-story, no truth in the heart-to-heart conversations. But to say that isn’t quite enough.
There’s no truth even in the camera set-ups and the snatches of dialogue heard in the background – or even in the positioning of bodies within the frame. Everything in the movie is suffused by a vision of life that is resoundingly and evidently false, but as this vision is not repulsive, but is intended to reassure, the lies don’t produce anger or frustration. No, they bring on the laughs.
Based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, “The Longest Ride” tells the story of a bull rider and an upwardly mobile sorority girl who meet one day at the rodeo in North Carolina ... But no, you don’t really want to hear this, do you?
If the movie (which also was shot in North Carolina) is to be remembered for anything, it’s for the presence of Scott Eastwood in his first significant starring role. Scott is the son of you-know-who, but I forgot all about that until 20 minutes in, when I noticed the resemblance. He doesn’t have Dad’s crazed quizzical look, but he has the squint and the voice, not to mention the good looks. Scott resembles the big guy enough for that to be interesting, but not so much that it’s distracting.
In “The Longest Ride,” Sophia (Charlotte-born Britt Robertson) and Luke (Eastwood) are immediately confronted by the challenges and sacrifices of love. His life, well, it’s on the ranch and the rodeo circuit. But Sophia is a New Jersey girl with a love of art, who is just a couple of months away from starting an internship in New York City. Much is made of this art-gallery internship throughout the movie: Should Sophia stay in North Carolina with the man she loves ... or take a job that pays no money? Hmm. Is that really a hard one?
Unfortunately, there’s only so much Sparks and screenwriter Craig Bolotin can do with the art lover/bull rider romance – how many times can they make him land on his head, after all? So the movie introduces an old man character, a forlorn and romantic geezer who just can’t shut up about the big love of his life. In Sophia’s daily visits to him, she reads a different letter that he wrote many years before, and on each occasion this introduces a flashback to early 1940s North Carolina. These flashbacks tell a second love story.
In every case, the old fellow, Ira, is remembering himself as a shy, guileless, selfless, besotted young man, but here’s what’s funny. Old Ira is played by Alan Alda, and just the sound of Alda’s voice works like an electric sign flashing the words “wise guy.” To see him acting weepy and wistful is to expect him, at any moment, to say, “Fooled you!” and start laughing. Moreover, we remember when Alda was young, and he was nothing like the sweet fellow playing Ira’s younger incarnation here. He was an abrasive, funny, know-it-all. Anyway, the effect of these Alda scenes, directed with all the solemnity of the crypt, is to keep “The Longest Ride” percolating at a level of low-grade hilarity.
“The Longest Ride” is 139 minutes long, which is amazing in itself, and not in a good way. Yes, two hours and 19 minutes for us to find out if Sophia is willing to pass up her big chance to work for free! And for Luke to decide if he’s tired of brain injury! And for Ira to ... no, I won’t say it.