Taking on the lead role in an adaptation of one of Nicholas Sparks’ unbearably saccharine, contrived and white, all-American love stories (Dear John, Safe Haven) is not an obvious launch pad to a successful career. But The Longest Ride does bring with it a huge, loyal audience of 12-30 year-old-women who will not be disappointed. If The Longest Ride does not create interest in the celebrated Black Mountain College in North Carolina, it will surely catapult the dishy 29-year-old Scott Eastwood onto the A list of leading men.
He: Luke Evans (Eastwood) is a bull riding stud who slid down the rankings following a serious head injury and plans to make up for lost time. Luke defies his doctor’s orders by continuing his pursuit of the prize. A salt-of-the-earth guy with old fashioned values, Luke lives with his doting mother on the family ranch. He doesn’t believe a girl should pay for her drinks and brings flowers to the door on a first date. Most likely to ask: what’s an art gallery?
She: Sophia (Britt Robertson) is about to take up a coveted internship at an art gallery in NYC. She is completing a Masters degree on the artists of the cutting-edge Black Mountain College (1933-1957). A modern, cosmopolitan gal, Sophia is ready to buy a guy a drink and meet him at the bar on a first date. Her Sorority sisters drag her to her first rodeo where she meets Luke. Sophia learns about Luke’s head injury, but cannot persuade him to give up bull riding. Most likely to ask: what end of the horse do I get on?
The conflict: Can the star-crossed lovers with nothing in common but their good looks and great bodies sacrifice their dreams to stay together?
The central contrivance: A parallel love story told in flashback. Driving home from their romantic first date, Luke saves the life of octogenarian Ira Levinson (Alan Alda), while Sophia retrieves a box from the burning car. Sophia befriends the hospitalised old man who tells her the story that is, as it happens, written in the love letters found in the box.
Flashback to young Levinson (Jack Huston) and his art-loving Viennese refugee wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin), who fear they are also incompatible. Due to a WWII injury, Ira cannot have children and Ruth longs for a big family. To make Ruth happy, Ira collects art from the Black Mountain College artists. Not Joseph Albers, who taught there, but Kandinksy, Paul Klee and even Picasso (who did not go there). Most likely to ask? Just why did I write those long expository letters to a woman living under my roof?
It’s not Levinson’s fault that, just when you think you could have written the predictable script, an unlikely provision in his will brings a touch of absurdity to the film. But it might be fair to blame Novelist and Producer Sparks for suggesting that old people are unsafe drivers and needy bores who live in the past, dishing out advice to young women with no friends or parents to confide in.
Scott Eastwood, Clint’s younger son, has been on our screens since 2004, appearing in several high profile films, such as his father’s Invictus and Gran Torino, and last year’s Brad Pitt vehicle, Fury. How ironic that it took George Tillman Jr – the Afro-American director of the Barbershop film series, and a Nicholas Sparks’ adaptation, to put Eastwood on the map. And Eastwood isn’t the only relative of a famous Hollywood name in the film. Oona Chaplin, Charlie’s granddaughter and Jack Huston, director John’s grandson pair up in the 1940s flashbacks to make The Longest Ride a double weepie.