“Longest Ride” a Pretty, Unlikely Romantic Fairy Tale
By Skip Sheffield
You’ve got to hand it to Nicholas Sparks. He churns out novels guaranteed to evoke sentiment through the romantic fantasy of perfect love.
“The Love Letter” was Sparks’ first book translated to screen in 2004. “The Longest Ride” his 17th, is his latest movie, adapted by Craig Bolotin and directed by George Tillman, Jr. (“Faster”).
“Longest Ride” stars Clint Eastwood’s chiseled youngest son Scott as professional bull rider Luke Collins.
Britt Robertson is Sophie Danko, a pretty Wake Forest college senior bound for an apprenticeship at an art gallery in New York City in a couple months. One day with her sorority sisters Sophie locks eyes with Luke Collins (Eastwood) riding a bucking bull. Luke loses his hat, then tosses it to her. That constitutes courtship in the macho world of professional bull riders.
As with all Sparks’s romances, “Longest Ride” is rooted in the idea of soul mates destined to be together regardless of cultural and economic differences. Sophie is a smart scholarship girl from New Jersey. Luke is a good old boy from North Carolina whose main focus is to be the No. 1 champion bull rider in the USA and give prize money to his widowed mother (Lolita Davidovich) to help run the family farm.
While riding with Luke in his big Ford pickup (Ford is a conspicuous sponsor), Luke spots an old Cadillac run off the road. He rushes down and pulls out an elderly man just as the car catches fire. “The box!” the man cries, and Sophia grabs a wicker basket.
The old man is 90-year-old Ira Levinson, played by Alan Alda. Never mind that Alda is only 79 and Italian by extraction, he is convincing as an elderly Jewish man still in love with his departed love Ruth. The box was filled with love letters from Ira to Ruth, one written every day for all the years they were together. As Sophie reads the letters to Ira, she thinks maybe Luke is Mr. Right, despite his destructive chosen career.
“Longest Ride” is the kind of story where you say OK, that could have happened… and maybe that could have happened, but whoa! That is too much a stretch for even the most delusional romantic.
Whatever, “Longest Ride” and Nicholas Sparks are critic-proof. The film is a pretty fantasy, filmed in part in Black Mountain, NC where my parents had a vacation home for 20 years. Those were the days.