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Nicholas Sparks. Go ahead, get all of the jokes, the remarks, and the vitriol out now before we move any further. The man has made a cottage industry out of romance novels that sport pastel-tinted beach scenes instead of glistening abs, complete with protagonists that are always hiding some sort of physical or emotional issue. His is a formula that has taken both literature and cinema by storm, and to varying degrees of success, he has decided the fates of date nights across the globe. But before you fear your date dragging you to see his latest offering, The Longest Ride, there’s something you should know… it’s actually really good.

Fate brought Sophia (Britt Robertson) and Luke (Scott Eastwood) together, and fate is what just might keep them together. While returning from their first date, they happen across Ira (Alan Alda,) an older gentleman who has been involved in a car crash. The couple saves the wounded man, as well as a box of love letters shared between himself and his deceased wife, Ruth. With an internship waiting in New York and a romance developing right in front of her, Sophia gets some unexpected advice from Ira in the form of his own love story, which plays out through flashbacks spanning several decades.

Yes, the synopsis above sounds like rote Nicholas Sparks, right down to the idyllic North Carolina setting. Yet for all of the cliches that The Longest Ride seems to require in order to connect with its audience, there’s a warmth and drama that actually transcends the typical paint-by-numbers portrait and actually makes this an enjoyable ride. Between George Tillman Jr’s self-assured direction, as well as the genuine chemistry between Robertson and Eastwood, The Longest Ride is an easy win from the start. Bonus points are awarded to both leads, particularly Scott Eastwood, who looks ready to inherit the mantle of his father’s rugged ways as soon as someone can write a Dirty Harry prequel. (Seriously, Hollywood, make that happen.)

What really sells The Longest Ride, though, is the Ira storyline, anchored by the legendary Alan Alda and supplemented by HBO drama vets Jack Huston and Oona Chaplin. While the story of Ira’s courtship and romance with his beloved Ruth does jump around a little bit, throwing several stumbling blocks in the way of our lovers’ paths, it’s still an extremely moving affair when the whole picture is presented. It’s also wonderful to see Alda, ever the raconteur, trading on his comedic and emotional timing in a film that benefits greatly from both.

If you’re afraid to see The Longest Ride based on the commercials, you’re absolutely right to be. But trust me when I tell you, the film is much better than the trailers and TV spots that you’ve been hammered with. The truth is that The Longest Ride is a well-told love story that starts a little formulaic but quickly turns into something that’s enjoyable to watch unfold. Sometimes, the Nicholas Sparks brand can surprise us.
8 / 10 stars
Rating: movie reviewed star rating out of five
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