The Longest Ride - A surprising romantic ride - 2.75 stars

"Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway." John Wayne

Walking into the cinema...
Mentioning Nicholas Sparks or The Notebook can cause most men to squirm. Yet, this self-proclaimed master storyteller has developed a formula for novels and films to keep people coming back for more. Sparks' storytelling is predictable and shmaltzy. Will The Longest Ride prove to be different or is the title a self-fulfilling prophecy? 

Overall rating: 2.75 stars 
Cinematic value: 2.5 stars    Big Questions value: 3 stars

         Cowboys, art galleries and two love stories that span three generations. A strange mix for a romantic drama, but this is the basis for the newest Nicholas Sparks inspired film, The Longest Ride. Art student, Sophia (Britt Robertson), and bull rider, Luke (Scott Eastwoodare an unlikely couple that must choose between new found love and their dreams. This young couple's story becomes a parallel journey of love due to a chance meeting with a man who helps them to define true, sacrificial love. This tangled, multi-generational tale of love and sacrifice delves into the depths of relationships and considers what truly matters in life. 
        Nicolas Sparks has become a cottage industry within himself. From The Notebook to Safe Haven, Sparks fills the cinematic void for audiences by supplying this generation with romantically themed dramas. The word that comes to mind after leaving The Longest Ride was surprised. Through the advertising, the film makers seem to provide the new Urban Cowboy, but the cowboy element is a mere foot note in this multi-layered love story. The Longest Ride is a conventional romance, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. Scott Eastwood and Britt Robertson have good chemistry and they are believable as a young couple who find themselves in the turning point of their lives. Their story is the central relationship, but it is not what makes this film enjoyable. The saving grace of the film is the casting of Alan Alda (MASH) as the crotchety, but lovable Ira. His role helps to differentiate this story from the other Sparks stories. Without giving too much away, his love story with his wife, Ruth, gave this romantic tale it's heart. The portrayal of their love affair had the benefit of being told through a two dimensional flashback style by director George Tillman Jr. (Faster, Notorious). This allows for the story to focus on their love story without unnecessary distractions of other aspects of their lives. The ups and downs of their relationship is meant to mirror the younger couple's love journey, but in the end the senior couple's tale provided more depth and believability because of the the trials they had to overcome. Their marriage proves that the richness of a relationship comes with time and something all people should aspire to in their relationships. Sophia and Luke's love story, at times, became unintentionally awkward. This was apparent during one of the key romantic scenes when the audience burst into laughter at the predictability of the love story, not because of the any comedic experience offered by the director. The Longest Ride, like other Sparks' story lines, offers a 'tying off all the loose ends' twist, which was unnecessary, but will leave many satisfied, but conflicted with the conclusion. It will not go down as one of the great cinematic romances, but it was surprisingly entertaining. Like the lollies at the concession stand, it was sweet, enjoyable for a moment, but inevitably forgettable.
         The Longest Ride may not be a cinematic triumph, but it does open the door to some of life's deeper considerations. One of the best lines from Ira to Sophia was, "Love requires sacrifice... always." It seems simple, but profound in it's context. Sacrificial love is a consistent theme throughout many romantic dramas, but George Tillman Jr. manages to masterfully show this love at different points in people lives and relationships. This study of  personal dreams, familial desires and allowing people to let their loved ones go for the sake of their happiness gives this story an unexpected depth. There are only two warnings for before viewing this film. One for the unnecessary sex scenes, the other for poorly written connecting dialogue. The first is for families the second is for those who have specific cinematic standards. Even with these predictable trappings, on the scale of Nicholas Sparks inspired films, this was better than most. It is not ground breaking cinema, but it could make for an enjoyable date night with your spouse.    
Leaving the cinema: There were some pleasant surprises in The Longest Ride. It surpassed expectations, but those early expectations were pretty low. For the blokes, the story has bull-riding and Alan Alda. For the ladies, offers a romance with a hint of testosterone to coerce your loved one to see it with you. If anything, it should make for some interesting conversations about the sacrifice that comes with any love story.  

Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 
1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25)
2. What does the Bible say about adoption? (Ephesians 1:5, Hebrews 2:13)
3. Does God care about my dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 16:3)

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews