Saturday, April 11, 2015

"The Longest Ride" is another layered love story from Sparks, with a touch of Douglas Sirk

George Tillman’s new layered melodrama “The Longest Ride”, based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook”) comes across as a 1950s Douglas Sirk piece.  It also provides a nice lesson in good karma.
The outer story, in present day, concerns a graduating college senior Sophia (Britt Robertson), expecting a paid internship in an art museum in New York, meets a bronco rider Luke Collins (Scott Eastwood, son of Clint Eastwood and an emerging star on his own, which is what Clint wants) at a rodeo.  They quickly start a romance.
Luke has a lot of street smarts, and also his own medical history (not very visible) that makes his continuing to ride dangerous.  Returning from a rodeo at night in a thunderstorm, Luke sees a car in front run off the road.  Luke rescues the driver, Ira (Alan Alda) and Sophia, at Ira’s begging, saves a basket of letters before the car explodes. 
Soon the couple befriends Ira, now a widower.  The letters (and again, we have the handwritten letter used as a movie or novel plot conduit, so common in English literature) tell the story of another challenged marriage between Ira (Jack Huston when young) and Ruth (Oona Chaplin).  Just before Pearl Harbor, Ruth told Ira she wanted a big family with lots of kids.  When Ira goes to war, he rescues another soldier in the trenches in France.  He gets wounded, and after the wound gets infected, he is unable to father children.
The film is not specific as to the medical details, as to whether Ira is in anyway disfigured or impotent. That is an idea that mattered to me in the days I pondered my own exposure and involvement with the military draft and deferments.  It can also be socially destructive;  a society in which couples don’t stand together when challenged can become vulnerable to enemies (a major point when I was at NIH in 1962).
The couple tries to adopt a child, and is rebuffed at even that, after Ruth has become a grade school teacher.  So their marriage becomes a self-testament.  But they build a big art collection in Charlotte, NC and that becomes a big point of karma for the film.
Eventually, Ira passes away, but the aftermath brings the new couple together.
There are some geographical issues.  Sophia goes to Wake Forest, and Greensboro (where Ira recuperates) is some distance away.  The mountains, where Luke has his cabin, are even farther away.  The credits say that some of the outdoor work was shot in New York State as well as North Carolina.
Eastwood looks a lot like Zac Efron, and even acts a bit like him.  He looks maybe a tad older (the real actor was 28 as the film as shot).  The physical intimacy of the film grows gradually.  Eastwood’s chest hair appears to be clipped short, perhaps.  Actors go through a lot, at least some of them do.  The movie marquee posters make Eastwood look “younger” than in the actual film.

My own novel and a major screenplay depend on "layering" through various media, and would present a problem of managing the "look" to keep the context clear. In this film, the backstory is shot with slightly deeper hues.  Everything stays full widescreen anamorphic.

The official site is here for “Fox 2000” and a regular 20th Century Fox release.  (When will it become 21st?). I saw the film at the AMC  Courthourse in Arlington VA, sold out, and the audience liked it (mostly young couples). 

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