Friday, April 10, 2015
The Longest Ride 
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review
The Longest Ride  (directed by George Tillman, Jr, screenplay by Craig Bolotin based on the novel (2013) [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Nicholas Sparks [wikip] [GR] [Amzn] [IMDb]) is largely what it is -- a "weapy (largely white oriented) romance / chick flick." BUT I would add (1) it's actually A PRETTY GOOD "weepy (largely white oriented) chick flick" and (2) IT CHOOSES, TIME AND AGAIN, TO BE POSITIVE. I want to say here that I APPRECIATE VERY MUCH THIS SECOND POINT.
I write this because this film about "an impossible romance" between a hunky/ever smiling North Carolina born-and-bred, 4th generation rancher's son / BULL RIDER named Luke (played by Scott Eastwood) and previously bookish/destined to be a NPR-listener, Wake Forest U. (on scholarship) attending art history student, New Jersey (city) raised daughter of more recent Polish (perhaps Solidarity-era) immigrants Sophia (played by Britt Robertson) -- the two first meet late in Sophia's senior year in college at quite literally HER "first rodeo" ;-) -- could have EASILY gone "more negative" and in all kinds of ways. INSTEAD, Sparks / Tillman CHOSE to make this contemporary Red-State / Blue-State potentially "Romeo and Juliet"-like romance into a celebration of both and arguably ALL backgrounds / worlds. IMHO this is quite a feat and it deserves to be celebrated here.
Indeed, the entire state of North Carolina is presented in far different terms than most viewers / readers would be used to. Yes, North Carolina is part of America's "Deeper South." However, it was _always_ actually more moderate than the states that neighbor it. When North Carolina's legislature voted to join the Confederacy during the Civil War Era, its vote for Secession from the Union succeeded by only a few votes. In more recent times, Charlotte its capital has become something of a banking center / transportation hub and the state has become as "purple" of a state as one gets in the South.
The current film focuses _a lot_ actually on the University / intellectual side of the State. Again, Sophia was an art history major at Wake Forest U. and though "on scholarship" she went there because she was interested in the legacy of the Black Mountain Art Movement. "Black Mountain" what? ;-) BUT THAT'S EXACTLY IT ... For DECADES many intellectuals across the South have been screaming "We have much more here than cotton fields and racists." To some extent, Rick Linklater's film Boyhood  sought to make the same point with regards to Texas.
Then "the second story" presented in the current film, that somewhat parallels the contemporary challenges faced by Sophia and Luke as they try to make their romance / budding relationship work, again playing out in North Carolina (and then North Carolina of the 1940s (!)) involved a lifelong romance / relationship between two people who were JEWISH -- Ira (played as a younger man by Jack Huston and as an older man by Alan Alda) who was already born/raised in North Carolina whose family ran furniture shop there, and Ruth (played wonderfully by Oona Chaplin) who along with her family fled Nazi occupied Vienna just before WW II -- "Jews in North Carolina? How'd they ever get here?" ;-) But why should that be surprising, given again Universities like North Carolina, Duke, NC State, and Wake Forest, as well as an entire art colony built around Black Mountain College? ... Again, there's MORE to North Carolina (and to the whole of the South) than cotton, tobacco and racism.
Then Luke's character is portrayed throughout quite honorably. He BEGINS the story as ALREADY A GOOD GUY and he ENDS as A BETTER GUY. And I can personally attest (and many times over) to the reality of Southern good manners, that again have to be taken into account when one thinks of the South. Yes, there are many problems in the South (as there are anywhere). But there is a charm / elegance in the South that extends across the various social (and racial...) strata that needs to be recognized as well. And so Sophia is also charmed / changed (POSITIVELY) in this regard as well. It _is_ a good thing to be nice ...
So, yes, while the film is "schmalzy" at times (as these kind of films often are), I have to give it a definite "thumbs up" because it does portray "the better angels" OF A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE and that inspires hope.
And I do wish that a lasting romance between a Luke and Sophia would indeed be possible.
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