Ten films in, it’s safe to say there’s a formula to the way an adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks book will unfold. And yet, after reaching new lows with recent adaptations like Safe Haven and The Best of Me, the Sparks series actually manages to show some restraint with the latest addition to the bunch, The Longest Ride.
Take the film’s romantic hero, Luke (played by Clint Eastwood’s son/dead ringer, Scott Eastwood). He’s a bull rider, which gives him a profession that’s dangerous without being something serious like a soldier. It doesn’t allow for a lot of depth, but considering how much depth Sparks’ leads tend to have, this actually works in Luke’s favor. And as his mismatched (is there any other kind?) love interest, Sophia (Britt Robertson) is a college student with a passion for art – as she explains it, “I love art. I love everything about it.” Again, it may seem simple (and that’s because it is), but hey, she’s not an abused housewife on the run or a girl dying of an unspecified disease. For the fluff that Sparks’ films offer, it works.
Of course, the issues that Luke and Sophia face come off as easier to manage than those in other adaptations of Sparks’ books, so it helps that the film offers a subplot from the go-to Wise Older Figure, here known as Ira Levinson (Alan Alda). Through a box of love letters, Ira shares the story of his relationship as a young man (Jack Huston) with his wife, Ruth (Oona Chaplin) as they go through a series of issues in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. While the stories are not exactly woven into the film in an elegant way, clearly offering something Sophia or Luke needs to hear at a given time, the actual sequences hint at something more interesting: having and maintaining a relationship over a long, bumpy span of time, when legitimate issues come into play. There’s a charm to these flashbacks, and they hint at the strength of The Notebook, still the best of the Sparks adaptations.
By comparison, the main issue in Sophia and Luke’s relationship seems silly: he wants to keep riding bulls, even though an injury from an accident that occurred a year earlier has put his life at significant risk. The film’s ultimate conclusion to the storyline is predictable, and audiences should be able to see it coming from the beginning of the film. Between that, and a “twist” in the film’s final moments, The Longest Ride would be considered ridiculous in comparison to most romantic films.
But keep in mind, this is coming from an author who’s had stories end with friends turning out to be ghosts of dead wives and the organs of a lover turning up in another important person in someone’s life. Just by not going for the overly dramatic ending, The Longest Ride qualifies as among the better entries in the body of Nicholas Sparks adaptations. It’s not exceptional, but it’s likable, and for a Nicholas Sparks adaptation, that’s worth something.