This past weekend, I went to see The Longest Ride, the latest Nicholas Sparks movie, all by myself.
This was not an action I took by choice. Originally, my colleague Hillary Crosley had volunteered to come along, as did a friend who figured The Longest Ride might be good for shits and giggles. But my boss, Erin Gloria Ryan, sentenced me to my lonesome fate, and I couldn’t even get good and drunk because I had shit to do afterwards. It is possible (probable) (definite) that my unwanted sobriety colored the following review.
In The Longest Ride, Nicholas Sparks returns to the flashback structure from The Notebook, only this time we’ve got two couples: first Luke and Sophia, a rancher/professional bull rider and an art history major, and then Ira and Ruth, who meet when Ruth flees Austria (the word “Nazi” is never used) and are split up by World War II only to reunite afterward.
We start in the present day. Sophia is about to graduate from Wake Forest (where she lives in the cleanest sorority house in history) and plans to move to New York for an internship in a gallery. She just really loves art—loves everything about it. Big fan of art.
But her friends drag her out to a professional bull riding competition. (Bull riding match? Competitive bull riding meet?) One of the contenders is somebody named Josh Faircloth—shout out to my maybe distant cousin—and another one is the very handsome Luke, who’s just returning to the circuit after recovering from a dire injury. He gives Sophia his cowboy hat, then later attempts to buy her a beer, then asks her out on a real date.
Sophia hesitates because she’s planning to move to New York City, after all, but soon enough they figure why not and are fucking at every possible opportunity.
Somewhere in all that, they find time to rescue an elderly man whose car careens off the road during a thunderstorm. In doing this, they also rescue the old man’s basket of letters. Sophia, being a kindly sort, agrees to come regularly and read Ira his own letters to his dead wife Ruth. It was so prescient of Ira to write Ruth a series of letters perfectly recapping everything they’d done in the last two weeks, so that one day they’d make perfect flashback fodder. Good job, Ira.
As Sophia reads the letters, she discovers the multiple layers of tragedy underneath what appeared at first to be generic, cutesy, old-people love. Ruth—who escaped Vienna just barely ahead of the Holocaust, whose community has been utterly shattered—wants a whole passel of babies. Ira wants them, too! But thanks to a war injury, he can’t have them. (Please note that the movie makes pretty clear that he’s infertile, not impotent, because God forbid a Nicholas Sparks property get TOO real.) Ruth sticks with him anyway, and they begin collecting modern art. “I love that you love it,” Ira tells Ruth.
But there’s a bump in the road when they meet David, a neglected little boy being raised in poverty by proud relatives. Ruth desperately wants to adopt him, and she wants Ira to fight for custody, but it’s just not possible. She snaps and walks out. Ira lets her go without so much as an argument because he loves her so much, and he just wants her to be happy.
Then, of course, she comes back.
Meanwhile, here in the present, the big conflict between Luke and Sophia is how they can make this work when they’re, like, from two different worlds, man. They try gamely: Sophia comes to Luke’s bull riding competitions and cheers and hangs out with his mom; Luke attends one gallery showing in Charlotte. There, he pouts because he thinks contemporary art is a waste of money, telling Sophia’s soon-to-be New York City boss that he thinks there’s more bullshit here than where he works. (Yes, Nicholas, we understand that you think people who believe in art are stupid and you don’t want their respect.) Boss lady laughs and pronounces him a keeper, but Sophia isn’t pleased, probably because Luke is acting like a fucking dipshit. But rather than dumping his ass right there, they have another conversation about how they’re gonna make it work even though they’re, like, from two different worlds, man.
Then Luke gets hurt at another competition, and Sophia drops her trip to New York to meet the gallery team (do art internships really work like that?) and runs to his side. In fact, she drops the whole idea of moving to New York, apparently telling her boss she just isn’t gonna make it up there, period. She arrives at the hospital just in time for a stern lecture from the doctor about how Luke has to quit bull riding or he will damn die. But he refuses to quit, because THIS IS WHAT HE DOES. She drives off because she can’t watch him kill himself!!!!
Of course, Luke goes on to the world championships, draws Rango—the vicious bull who almost killed him—makes the eight, takes the prize, and realizes that all this is nothing without someone to share it with. So he’s done with bull-riding forever, hooray!
You know, The Longest Ride wasn’t a horrible movie. All four romantic leads were out there selling the story like goddamn professionals. (Most of them are Hollywood scions so hey, maybe sometimes being raised in the family business works.) Oona Chaplin and Jack Huston are perfectly lovely as Ruth and Ira Levinson, and Scott Eastwood is, as my mother would put it, a right honeybun. Britt Robertson is charming—though she’s no more a New Jersey-raised daughter of Polish immigrants than Reese Witherspoon. She is another generic Sparksian North Carolinian and no shoehorned-in backstory will convince me otherwise.
And this time, unlike in Safe Haven, there were no matchmaking ghosts steering the movie’s plot. But you know what? I might’ve preferred a matchmaking ghost or two. Because this movie was all about how “love requires sacrifice,” which, sure. Long-term relationships require compromise and only a fool expects to get everything she wants out of life. (The universe has not been forthcoming with my much-desired fortune, for instance.) But actually, The Longest Ride was mostly about women sacrificing their dreams.
That being said, I totally bought Ruth and Ira’s story, thanks to the pretty stellar work by Chaplin and Huston, and there’s of course nothing wrong with changing your mind about where you’re going to live after graduation. But when you shackle the two stories together and have aged figure of wisdom Alan Alda declare that “love requires sacrifice,” the message starts to rankle. Because you could argue that Luke gives up bull riding for Sophia, but see, bull riding was going to kill him. At the risk of sounding like a pretentious asshole who might dare to suggest that a Jackson Pollock has some intrinsic worth, Luke gives up self-destruction, while Sophia gives up self-creation. Luke gets saved by the love of a good woman, and Sophia gets to devote herself to him instead of fancy-pants art in New York City.
But of course, in the end, it’s all perfectly fine. Because when Ira dies, his and Ruth’s entire (very, very valuable) art collection goes up for auction, and Luke and Sophie are both invited. First up is the painting of Ruth by their almost-adopted surrogate son David. None of these fancy-pants big city art snobs wants it, so Luke buys it. But—TWIST!!!—that means Luke gets the whole collection. Because he sees what’s truly important: love, and also representational art.
Sophie and Luke go on to build a “Ruth & Ira Levinson Museum” where Sophia can work, and Luke also buys a new truck. See, girls? Give up your dreams! You might get them back again! Everything works out great!
I teared up twice, of course. FUCK YOU, NICHOLAS SPARKS. FUCK YOU, ERIN GLORIA RYAN.
Photos via 20th Century Fox.