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Film Review: The Longest Ride (2015)

‘Corny as hell but with old-fashioned charm,’ wrote Mark Kermode in The Observer.[1] The film centres on the love affair between former bull-riding champion Luke (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint) and art student Sophia (relative newcomer, Britt Robertson.) The plot follows the obligatory Nicholas Sparks proven corny formula:

1. Boy meets girl
2. Their chemistry oozes off the celluloid
3. Inevitable conflict ensues
4. A wise, older mentor offers celestial guidance
5. A resolution is found, universal balance is restored and enduring love triumphs.

The charm offensive comes in the form of Ira (Alan Alda) The star-crossed lovers rescue 91 year old Ira from a burning car, alongside his prized possessions; his collection of love letters to his wife Ruth, spanning decades. Whilst recovering in hospital, he asks Sophia to read the letters aloud. The film then follows the parallel lives of both couples. Showing Ira and Ruth dealing with WWII conscription and Jewish dating etiquette, whilst Luke and Sophia battle life threatening bull-riding, alongside the lure of a New York art career. Both leading lady characters share a passion for art; with Ruth substituting her childless home with abstract masterpieces and Sophia showing a talent for art curatorship.

Handwritten love letters offer an antiquated antidote to the likes of social networking and texting. Herein lies the Sparks magic; 1950’s romantic vernacular, laid bare in realms of private letters, read aloud in a 21st century hospital, to an elderly patient and his young apprentice. The director, George Tillman Jr deftly delivers a Tour de Force cinematic technique; parallel lives that are entwined but move seamlessly from one to the other. We are as comfortable sitting at Ira and Ruth’s dining table as we are watching Luke saddle up for the rodeo, we want both couples to overcome their obstacles and live happily ever after.

Sparks never shies away from difficult subjects. In Safe Haven (2013) domestic violence lurks and threatens, in Nights at Rodanthe (2008) bereavement consumes and in The Longest Ride (2015), we learn of Luke’s secret health condition.

To describe the Spark ‘phenomena’ simply as part of the romantic film genre is to dismiss his trademark authentic attention to detail. Tillman Jr has produced not just a decent date night movie but has provided an insight and touched on a number of historical, personal truths. From the telling of the early persecution of Austrian Jews and their subsequent emigration to America, to demonstrating how women like Ruth coped with infertility and the frustrations of not being able to adopt in the 1940’s. Also, how abstract art developed in the post-war period and reactions to it and ultimately how a Jewish couple managed to sustain a happy childless marriage through their lifetime.

Alan Alda plays Ira with such gravitas in every scene, conjuring up pain, regret and love with every breath, look and flinch. It is as if he holds the ancestral key to eternal love and before he dies, he might just whisper his secrets to Sophia. Indeed, Ira’s proposal to Ruth is wonderfully understated;

“I'd like to marry you, if you think that would be okay.”

To counter the magnitude of Ira and Ruth’s epic love affair, there are adrenaline-pumping, death-defying scenes of Luke bull-riding. There is an almost a kamikaze look on Luke’s face as he mounts the irate bull, then, a slow-motion, camera close-up of a man versus beast frenzy. The crowd go wild and if the rider is lucky, he escapes unharmed. Scott Eastwood looks very at home in his cowboy attire, as if he too wants to follow his Dad into a Wild West sunset on horseback.

There is also film royalty in the cast, in the form of Ruth, played by Oona Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin’s granddaughter) and the younger Ira played by Jack Huston, who is John Huston’s grandson.

For the past 4 years, there has been a Nicholas Sparks film released every year. 97 million books have been sold worldwide and the films have grossed nearly $1 billion globally. [2] The franchise success looks set to continue, with a new release expected next year. In conclusion, The Longest Ride is a perfect date night film, ideal for a cold winter’s evening, with enough corny charm to please everyone.

Written by Liz Dickinson.

[1] “The Longest Ride review- corny as hell but with old-fashioned charm.” Mark Kermode, The Observer. 21/6/15.
[2] “Love will tear us apart: the Nicholas Sparks formula,” Helen O’Hara in The Telegraph. 19/6/2015

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