Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Love: 3.5 Stars
The Longest Ride dedicates a lot of screen time to Luke and Sophia’s whirlwind romance. They share numerous stories, experiences and dreams before they decide to commit themselves to one another. Unlike most romances, the film also focuses on untangling some very real differences that could ultimately come between them. Rather than creating a paper fiancée or a string of unfortunate miscommunications to add drama to the relationship, the Longest Ride explores the very real challenges that couples face when their careers pull them in different directions. It’s disappointing, of course, that Sophia is willing to give up her dreams long before Luke is willing to make the same sacrifices for her. And of course, the story ends with a predictable fairy tale ending where both Luke and Sophia get what they want and no one has to sacrifice anything. But at the very least, the film explores some more realistic obstacles to modern-day romances.
Gender Roles - Women: 1.5 Stars
Sophia is a dedicated college student with a clear idea of what she wants from life. Although she finds herself falling for Luke after their very first date, she still intends to follow her dreams and move to New York City – at least, until he ends up in the hospital after a bull-riding accident. For the most part, she keeps a clear head in balancing her life goals against her feelings for Luke. She confronts him when he is dismissive of her career and doesn’t hesitate to walk away from him when he is being unreasonable about his. She doesn’t fall apart when they break up, but finds comfort in Ira’s stories of his own roller coaster romance with Ruth. But while this is a refreshing change, it really is the least that we should expect from any modern day leading lady. Sophia may be smart and kind and level-headed, but she doesn’t do much to “wow” us or push the envelope.
Gender Roles - Men: 1 Star
Everything about Luke is traditionally masculine and predictable. He is a thrill-seeking bull-rider who continues to put his life on the line for only 8 seconds of glory, despite the warnings from his mother and his doctors. He refuses to accept the severity of his injuries, presumably because he is afraid of looking weak or defeated. He never truly tries to understand Sophia’s fascination with modern art, and even embarrasses her in front of her boss in a way that could have damaged her career. While he is full of romantic gestures, heroism and virility, he doesn’t respect her studies or take her work very seriously. Luke’s character is a typical heartthrob, written with the expectation that audiences would forgive his occasional selfishness based on little more than his rugged good looks a sweet and sentimental public reconciliation.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 2 Stars
Sophia is a confident young woman who never needed to fall in love to feel complete or happy. And when she does fall in love, she doesn’t fall so hard that she completely loses herself or the things that are important to her. It’s unfortunate, however, that we don’t know more about the people in her life and the successes that might have contributed to this sturdy sense of self.
Thankfully, Sophia doesn’t spend any time primping in front of a mirror or stressing over outfits - but her sorority sisters aptly fill the role of stereotypical college girls by swooning and giggling when Luke comes to the door. And across the board, all of them are thin, pretty and white, with little variety in body size, skin tone or personality. Sadly, the only female who doesn’t fit the mold is Luke’s mother, who doesn’t have nearly enough screen time to make much of an impact on the story. Sophia may not spend much time stressing about her appearance, but at the same time, the Longest Ride doesn’t go out of its way to include any average-sized women or other forms of diversity in its cast.
Plot: 1.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Like most romances, the Longest Ride sets out to make the male lead the perfect catch and hero of the film. Luke is not only sensitive and romantic, but also strong and fearless enough to become the best at what he does. There’s never any doubt why Sophia has fallen in love with him, but she isn’t given the same opportunity to shine. She studies contemporary art, but doesn’t paint or create anything on her own. She is kind and devoted to Ira in the last few months of his life, but it is still Luke that wins the auction and inherits Ira’s priceless collection of artwork. Luke eventually realizes that Sophia is more important to him than bull-riding, but of course, he doesn’t come to this conclusion until after he’s conquered the most wild bull of them all and accomplished everything he needed to accomplish. In the end, Luke goes home with both the glory and the girl, but Sophia is expected to be content with winning Luke’s heart - and his generosity in sharing Ira’s fortune with her.
Character Development: 2 Stars
Sophia is given some limited background information, but not enough to make her truly memorable. Her character has a stated passion for contemporary art, but her interest seems to be more of a plot device to keep her and Luke apart than an actual personality trait. The film certainly doesn’t spend as much time exploring her dreams for New York as it does on Luke’s bull-riding career. We’re also told that Sophia’s parents are immigrants, but never get a real glimpse of how this has shaped her worldview. She comes across as a fairly typical American girl, and the strange factoid seems to be just another way to make her relationship with Luke mirror that of Ira and Ruth. Sophia isn’t a completely empty character, but the film doesn’t do much more than scratch the surface of who she really is.
Language and Sexual Content: 3 Stars
The sex scenes in the Longest Ride are sweet and brief, without any surprises. The film respectfully depicts two couples in love, silently giving way to their passion for one another. There is no anger or regret or awkwardness in the encounters, just idealized sensuality. It is Sophia that initiates the first love-making session with Luke, by simply removing her clothes in front of him. And regardless of the obvious lack of any kissing or foreplay, Sophia exhibits a refreshing boldness and comfort with her own body and her own sexuality.
Supporting Characters: 2 Stars
Ira’s wife Ruth is a fairly independent woman for her era, but much like Sophia, she never surprises us with her strength or ingenuity. She loves and collects artwork, but never attempts to create her own. And when her marriage gets to be more than she can bear, she walks out on Ira with no real reason or purpose. Overall, Ruth and Ira are pleasant enough characters, but they are little more than an earlier version of Luke and Sophia and don’t add much dimension to the story.