The Longest Ride is a romance movie based on the Nicholas Sparks novel revolving around a female college senior in North Carolina, Sophia, and her romance with a rogue cowboy, Luke. Early in their relationship they encounter a car that had crashed and they work to help save the elderly man involved. Sophia decides to stick with the man at the hospital, who she later learns is named Ira and they develop a special friendship. Ira’s vision is failing him and he asks Sophia to read him love letters from his deceased wife. This portion of the plotline consists of flashbacks to the 1940s-60s of the two lovers. Meanwhile, Sophia and Luke’s relationship becomes rocky due to Sophia not supporting Luke’s dangerous career as a bull rider and her insecurities of their relationship continuing once she moves to New York after graduation. Ira’s letters convince Sophia to give her relationship a second chance, and (spoiler alert) everyone’s stories combine in the end after Ira passes away and includes invitations to Sophia and Luke in his will to the auction of his collection of valuable artwork. Shockingly the pair end up winning millions of dollars of precious art, get back together, and everyone lives happily ever after.
It’s very clear that this movie is targeted towards a female audience. Throughout the movie we follow Sophia’s gaze. We know and understand her intimate feelings and relationships significantly more than any other character. Janet McCabe discusses how women’s film is aimed directly at female viewers through constructed skills of femininity, such as sensitivity, perception and intuition (45). We see this as we follow Sophia, who is the ultimate example of “the cool girl” (Petersen). She meets Luke by chance, not because she’s longing for attention. She drinks beer, she’s quick to make witty comebacks, she performs extremely well in school, and she maintains a perfect body and beautiful face through it all. On the other hand, Luke is a man’s man. He lives on a ranch and does manual labor. He gets severely injured in a bull riding incident, but continues riding because he’s tough guy and doesn’t give up. This stereotype is further enhanced by the fact that Luke is played by Scott Eastwood who is the son of Hollywood’s definition of manliness, Clint Eastwood.
I believe this movie creates serious issues for feminism because of its emphasis on these gender roles and the situations exemplified by the characters. Firstly, it creates unrealistic expectations for the young women and girls the movie is clearly targeting. Sophia’s cool girl portrayal revolves around her being independent, but also pleasing to men. Sophia has little to no financial issues. She’s on a full-ride scholarship for college and has locked down a job under a prestigious art dealer post-graduation. She has many close girl friends that she lives with and who support her. Sophia always looks perfectly dressed and fresh-faced. In fact, it seems like her only issue revolves around a boy. This leads me to my second point: the lack of prominent, meaningful female roles in the movie. The Longest Ride without a doubt fails the Bechdel test (Youtube). The only women in the movie that even have names are Sophia and Ira’s wife Ruth. Since these women live in two completely different time periods it’s safe to say they never spoke to each other, much less talked about things other than men. The main plotline surrounding Ruth is her struggling relationship with Ira due to the fact that they can’t have children and she desperately wants a big family. This leads to her leaving Ira, but later changing her mind and coming home to him. Personally, I found both of these characters very difficult to relate to, and thought Ira (the elderly man) was the most like my personality. The lack of female representation throughout the film severely limits what kinds of personalities the audience has to relate to.
Additionally, Sophia and Luke’s relationship is problematic on its own. It’s clear early-on in the movie that Sophia’s passion is art and her career. She’s landed an extremely good job immediately after graduation far away from North Carolina, but only a few months after meeting Luke she begins to second-guess her decision to move away. When Sophia invites Luke to an important modern art show with her soon-to-be boss, his manly characteristics are reinforced by claiming that the art is “B.S.” and boldly stating he can’t believe people pay for these things (the artwork). Even though this visibly upsets Sophia, she still ends up backing out of her internship in New York in order to stay with him. This is consistent with Rosalind Gill’s statements on films “reassuring male viewers that self-transformations are not really necessary: being oneself is all that is required to win the women’s heart, and ‘authentic masculinity’ wins the day.” (158). Although the film clearly tries to portray Sophia as an independent female lead through her ambition, intelligence and work ethic, it severely falls short. The film also strongly reinforces male stereotypes to create a toxic example of modern relationships.
Another confirmation of the target audience of “The Longest Ride” was the audience present when I saw the movie. The audience mainly consisted of groups of young adult women and teenage girls. I viewed the movie with my boyfriend, and we counted six other men in the theater besides him. This environment definitely added to the overall atmosphere of the film. Personally, I don’t enjoy romance movies or “chick flicks,” so I came in with low expectations. I chose this movie for analysis for the main reason that it is something I would never rent. Honestly, if I had rented it I probably would’ve fallen asleep. My boyfriend and I spent a large majority movie muffling our laughter at the enormous amount of melodrama and cheesy one-liners. I have to admit this was not well-received by the three groups of girls sitting around us. The movie was an emotional rollercoaster for many of the audience members. There were lots of laughs, but also many tears. I heard crying when Sophia and Luke’s relationship was failing, when Ira passes away, and then tears of happiness when the two lovers are reunited at the end.
The location of the film impacted me as well. For any movie I want to see in theaters, I typically attend a very small, almost run-down, local Minneapolis theater that charges $6 per ticket and $5 for a popcorn/drink combination. Their main objective is to support artistic films. Unfortunately (but probably not coincidentally), this film wasn’t playing there. Instead we went to a local suburb mega-theater. It cost $11.50 for each ticket and had something like 25 different theaters in the building. At $8 for some popcorn, we decided to go without a snack.
Overall, the film was disappointing from a feminist critique. Was the experience entertaining? Absolutely. Was the film promoting healthy relationships, female equality and the elimination of stereotypical gender roles? Absolutely not. Sophia’s cool girl character and Luke’s hyper-masculinity create irrational models for audience members. In addition to this, the lack of prominent females throughout the film is problematic in portraying only specific and stereotypical examples of women. The Longest Ride places a strong emphasis on gender roles that hurt feminist advancement.
Gill, R. “Postfeminist Media Culture: Elements of a Sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies 10.2 (2007): 147-66. Web.
McCabe, Janet. “Feminist Film Studies.” Google Books. N.p., 2004. Web.
Petersen, Anne H. “Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls.” BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed, 28 Feb. 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.
“The Oscars and The Bechdel Test.” YouTube. Feminist Frequency, 15 Feb. 2012. Web.