Movie News & Reviews

‘Longest Ride’ a stirring portrayal of Nicholas Sparks’ ‘The Notebook’

“The Longest Ride” is a picture that’s pretty as, well, pretty as a picture.

With its misty vistas of gauzy fog draped delicately over lush North Carolina forests and gleaming lakes, it looks like a tourist brochure brought to life.

Pretty, yes. But not nearly as pretty as the people in those settings.

Smiles are dazzling. Complexions are flawless. Hair is perfect.

Pretty, with a pedigree. You may not be familiar with “Ride’s” stars, but you certainly know their last names: Chaplin, Huston, Eastwood.

That would be Oona Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie. Jack Huston, grandson of John. And Scott Eastwood, son of … who else?

We’re talking Hollywood royalty here. And with Scott in particular, the family resemblance is strong. Though there isn’t the aura of anger and danger one finds in Clint.

With its story about two very nice couples from two different generations finding true love and then grappling decorously with the difficulties of making love last, we’re in the realm of Nicholas Sparks. Starting with 2004’s “The Notebook,” we’re now up to 10 Sparks-derived pictures and counting, many of them set in North Carolina where the author makes his home.

Directed by George Tillman Jr. (“Soul Food” and “Men of Honor”), “Ride” smoothly merges two separate love stories. There’s a contemporary romance between young people from very different worlds, Luke (Eastwood), a handsome professional rodeo bull rider, and Sophia (Britt Robertson), a very pretty art-loving college senior. And then there’s the story of Jewish couple Ira (Huston), a shy haberdasher, and Ruth (Chaplin), an outgoing schoolteacher, who fall in love in the early 1940s and whose marriage lasts for decades.

Unlike Sparks’ novel where the two stories awkwardly intersect only at the very end, the intersection in the movie comes early when Luke and Sophia rescue Ira, now a widower in his 90s (played by Alan Alda), from a car wreck. They learn of his love for his wife through tender letters he wrote to her throughout their marriage, which Sophia reads in his hospital room and are brought to life in flashbacks.

The older couple’s trials and abiding love offer relational guideposts for the young people.

“Ride” is shamelessly manipulative — the pain of childlessness and a potentially fatal medical condition are in the mix, even the Holocaust is briefly referenced — but Tillman brings such an affecting sincerity to his handling of the material that the picture seldom turns maudlin.

Carolina settings, star-crossed lovers, elements of tragedy: Sparks’ formula works. Get out your handkerchiefs, and rest assured that there will be uplift at the end.