The best thing about The Longest Ride, the latest film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel, is the bull-riding. The slow-motion shots, with the animal’s legs kicking and snot slinging into the air, capture the ride as an act of grace. An entire documentary focused on the sport could be carried by the power and beauty of such images. The same, however, can’t be said for The Longest Ride, which looks to offer two love stories for the price of one and ends up a pointless excuse to see a glimpse of Scott Eastwood’s rear end.
Eastwood, who’s got the same jawline as his father, Clint, stars opposite Britt Robertson in a story allegedly about sacrifice and love in the green hills of North Carolina. Eastwood plays Luke, a pro bullrider trying to make a comeback after being seriously injured by a dreaded black bull named Rango. Robertson is quite a different character, Sophia, a studious art history major looking to jump start her art career with an internship in New York City. The two meet after Sophia’s sorority sisters drag her to watch a bull-riding competition, and she catches the eye (and the hat) of the victorious Luke. And so begins a seemingly doomed courtship too vanilla to savor and too mechanically plotted to give a damn about.
But Luke and Sophia are only half the movie. On the night of their first date, the two save a WWII vet named Ira (Alan Alda) from a fiery car wreck, and Sophia rescues a box of the man’s old love letters. Not one to value privacy, Sophia reads them while the old man recovers, and begins speaking to him about his life. Through a series of flashbacks, the film shows how Ira’s beloved wife, Ruth (Oona Chaplan), gave up on her dream so that she could be with him and live happily together for decades on end. Meanwhile, the college girl doesn’t quite seem to realize that she’s facing a similar choice: Stay with the handsome cowboy, or pursue her art career.
The film pretends to explore the relationship of sacrifice in love, but it shows just a pinprick of pain. The person who sacrifices the most is definitely Ruth, and that adds a sense of depth to her relationship with Ira. However, that old-timey romance, when in contrast with Luke and Sophia’s two-month long romp of saddles and sex, makes the modern couple’s relationship seem banal, if not just silly. And the way the two love stories comes together is almost a joke.
Everything just ties up so nicely, even when Luke sacrifices absolutely nothing for it. Sorry if this is a spoiler, but not only does the handsome hero get to show Rango who’s boss and win back his girl, he also becomes a multi-millionaire the second he brings Sophia in for a hands-on-face kiss. He literally wins the love/live lottery for being a bullheaded jackass who shows hardly any support for what his girl wants to do in life. Even if The Longest Ride is about the parallels of long relationships and bull-riding, it sure as hell isn’t about sacrifice.