Monday, 13 April 2015

Movie Review: The Longest Ride (2015)

On the list of red-flag genre listings, at least as I see them, romantic dramas are a few rungs above romantic comedies. The reason for this is the irony factor: Romantic comedies are already trying to make the audience laugh, so any hopes of getting laughs out of how bad it is are slim at best; romantic dramas, on the other hand, are perfectly viable in that regard. I bring this up because, since this film is adapted from a Nicholas Sparks book much like The Best Of Me was, I suspect that the only way I can possibly enjoy this movie is for less than genuine reasons. The best I can realistically hope for is that this doesn’t aggravate me as much as that film did, which shouldn’t be too hard but I’ve been proven wrong before. Let’s hope that isn’t the case this time: This is The Longest Ride.

The plot: Art student Sophia (Britt Robertson) meets championship bull rider Luke (Scott Eastwood), but after their first date together they come across an off-road car crash and rescue driver Ira (Alan Alda) from the wreckage. As Ira is recovering, Sophia offers to read him some of his old letters to his wife that detail his budding early relationship with her. Inspired by their story, Sophia is determined to make her relationship with Luke work, even if Luke’s dedication to his work may one day see the end of him.

This cast is nepotism like I have never seen before, or at least this concentrated. The majority of the main cast are all related to Hollywood royalty, with the exception of Britt Robertson as far as I can tell and Alan Alda, who flat-out is Hollywood royalty: Scott Eastwood is the son of the fabled actor/director Clint, young Ira is played by Jack Huston, the nephew of both Danny and Anjelica Huston, and young Ruth is portrayed by Oona Chaplin, grand-daughter of the late, great Charlie Chaplin. Damn! Maybe that would explain how oft-kilter the acting is for the most part. Britt Robertson is relatively okay in her pretty stock city girl in the country role and Scott Eastwood is as Southern as a country song. By that, I mean he’s about as Southern as a modern country song, where the desperation to stay relevant has resulted in the majority of it being heavily watered down to the point of not even being country anymore. Sorry, tangent, but I don’t buy this Manterey-born Californian as a Carolina kid. Jack Huston may look like a less-than-successful attempt to clone Johnny Depp, but he fits in rather well with his 1940’s backdrop, and Oona Chaplin… okay, I admittedly don’t talk to many people from Venice, but somehow I doubt that they sound like a British accent that had a head-on collision with the rest of Europe. Seriously, it is painfully distracting hearing her accent wavering as much as it does here, something I’m guessing is hereditary as the actress playing her mother has a similar problem, only she isn’t on-screen long enough for it to become as big an issue. It should come as no surprise that the best actor here is Alan Alda, whose performance as Ira was the closest I got to being connected to a character.

If a romantic film is going to succeed in any regard, it has to have something that separates it from the pack or at least makes it stand out. In short, you need a gimmick and this film’s got one: While we follow Sophia and Luke’s budding romance in the present day, we also get a parallel story following young Ira and Ruth in the 1940’s. Now, I actually like this idea in theory, as the filmmakers can have the two arcs intertwine, contrast and complement each other to add to the film’s overall narrative about star-crossed lovers, and given how clichéd said narrative is, it needs all the complementing it can get. But this doesn’t work so well in practice for a number of reasons. First off, the script is nowhere near nimble enough to place equal dramatic weight into both stories, even with as much effort is put into such things surprisingly enough: Without directly lifting scenes wholesale from each other, both romance plots follow similar themes that are placed right next to each other; this shows a certain complexity that I don’t normally get from this kind of fare.

Of course, this leads into the next problem with the idea: The two stories follow each other too closely. Even without copying whole scenes, it still feels like we’re ultimately watching the same story twice because of how familiar they feel to each other. It gets to the point where both stories end up with the male leads getting an undisclosed relationship-threatening injury that puts a rift between them; that’s how closely they follow each other. It kills the tension on either side because the audience will anticipate what the supporting scene will entail based on the previous one. Not that the specifics of the story would have been all that great without this device anyway, as the main plot involving Sophia and Luke is written with the subtlety and maturity that I have come to expect from a Nicholas Sparks work. From the minor things like the rather stereotypical portrayal of female sorority houses to the hideously dumb dialogue like “Even an accident has purpose” to the brain-crappingly stupid ending that defies every bit of realism possible within the story, it never stops stepping into potholes as it walks and it never stops being hilarious as a result. I watched this the same day I did The SpongeBob Movie and even that didn’t make me laugh as much as this. For just a taste of how saccharine and pandering this gets, there’s a scene where Luke walks to the door of Sophie’s sorority house is backed by the song I Feel A Sin Comin’ On by Pistol Annies. Don’t get me wrong, the song itself is good but the lyrics and the obvious female gaze-tinged feel of the scene combine into something completely ridiculous and bordering on parody, and that’s not the only time this happens either. Sex scenes in the shower are one of the classic romantic film clichés, but the contrivance behind the one in this film gave me one of the biggest laughs so far this year.

Not that it’s all funny, though, as some of it is just plain pathetic and most of that is because of how poorly Luke is written. His character arc is a standard fallen hero climbing his way back to the top story, and normally this framework is fine if said reason for the fall is given the weight needed to make it work. However, in a later scene at the doctor’s, he tells Luke “[he] need[s] to stop playing down the severity of your condition” and that is the problem in a nutshell, which because of the symbiotic nature of the parallel love stories is also an issue with the 1940’s plot as well. Throughout the film, we see Luke having to deal with nerves in facing Rango, the bull that hospitalized him a year prior, as well as the aforementioned undisclosed injury, but it's so bizarrely glossed over that it exists in some weird Schrodinger's Plot Point space where it is important and not important at the same time. That isn't helped by how poorly the conclusion to Luke's arc is handled; *SPOILERS* maybe if Luke didn’t end up winning against Rango and becoming the number one bull rider in the world, then his decision to stick with Sophia would be more effective; as it stands, though, it feels like the writer tried to have it both ways and ended up failing at both of them, much like with the romances. Of course, this is paired with Sophia’s subplot about her future career in art, which is also concluded pretty badly but to an even bigger degree than Luke’s. It concludes with Ira and his wife’s art collection being auctioned off and, after Luke bets on a single painting, Ira’s attorney states that the will stipulates that whoever buys that single painting automatically gets the rest of the collection. This is such a moronic plot resolution that we would be here all day if I explained exactly why in every way possible, and it’s at that level of moronic that I can safely assume that I don’t need to explain why it is.

All in all, this is at least better than The Best Of Me but that’s only out of how laughable it gets whereas the former just annoyed me to no end. The chemistry between the couples is decent, even if the acting is a tad askew, and the bull riding scenes are shot decently (even if it resorts to out-of-place head-mounted cameras) but the overall production is so cheesy and fails to properly portray anything resembling genuine romance that it will, on a whim, induce both cackling and gritting of teeth. The dialogue is hokey, the soundtrack choices are extremely on-the-nose at points, and the otherwise admirable attempt at storytelling in parallel ends up working against itself before too long. It’s better than Seventh Son, which also had terrible script issues but the failed attempts here make for better entertainment value, even if it is entirely unintentional. However, by that same token, The Interview may have also failed at writing a more complex script than we ended up getting but it failed slightly less so than this. If you have a high tolerance for romantic schlock, or if you can somehow get to a cinema where only you and a few friends are in the audience and you can heckle out-loud, then maybe I could suggest checking this out; otherwise, save your money for something more worthwhile.

2 comments:

  1. So is 'the longest ride' referring to the bull or Scott Eastwood?

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    1. I thought it was referring to how the film feels a lot longer than it actually is. I don't even think they mention the title at any point in the film.

      Also, shh! You're not supposed to be making better jokes than me!

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