One self-evident truth of teen summer romance movies is that they’re all wish fulfillment fantasies. Party-packed, carefree, candy-colored money-is-no-obstacle to anything we want to do because everybody is Cover Girl thin and gorgeous — even the girls — they’re like a beach book with a brooding hero who lures the shrinking violet into blooming, or vice versa.
One of the reasons Netflix has OWNED this genre is that they’ve leaned into this trite-but-true rule, and made it their own. And giving the adaptor/screenwriter of the “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” movies.Sofia Alvarez, a shot at directing is another smart move.
So it doesn’t matter that “Along for the Ride,” her adaptation of a Sarah Dessen novel about a child of divorced literary/academic parents who loses some of her academic focus and “intensity” as she comes out of her shell during a summer in a beach town, seems overfamiliar and focus-grouped. It’s not for “us,” and by “us” I mean anybody not of a “Kissing Booth/To All the Boys” demographic, any viewer who doesn’t get misty-eyed over the heyday of teen queen Joey King.
If you’re over 30, every damned thing about “Along for the Ride” will feel ridiculously predictable, from the hunk’s unruly mop of curls to the heroine’s mousey attire that doesn’t wholly hide how much modeling she’s probably done (nailed it). Not having read the book, I’d bet cash money that the most worn out tropes that turn up on screen here were cut-and-pasted into as well, because YA lit or YA movies, the plot elements are endlessly recyclable.
Even Colby, the name of the beach town where the pretentiously-named Auden (Emma Pasarow) — her parents are into lit, remember — goes to spend the summer with Dad (Dermot Mulroney) sounds invented by a high school girl.
Auden recognizes that “maybe I come off as too intense,” so maybe a summer at the beach with writer-Dad, his bubbly, younger new wife Heidi (Kate Bosworth), their baby Thisbe and working at Heidi’s chic boutique with hipper teen skinny-minis (Laura Kariuki, Sami Finnerty and Genevieve Hannelius) will be just the thing to let her “be a different version” of herself as prep school alumna who’s “never done anything you can’t read about on my (high school) transcript.”
She gets hit on by the town’s “handsome tool,” tries to fit in with popular colleagues (Auden does the store’s books) who “dance every day at 6,” aka “quitting time, and meets the brooding BMX hunk Eli (Belmont Cameli) who almost bumps into her with his bike.
Easy to see how that could happen, all those curls covering his eyes, you know.
Eli has a dark secret, of course. But he’s distracted by shy Auden’s lack of life experience and challenges her to a “quest” — a life list they will tick off as the summer progresses ; “food fight,” “trespassing,” “prom,” etc.
Meanwhile, Auden grows up to see the good and the bad in her outspoken, fiercely feminist Mom (Andie MacDowell, pretty good), the bad and the good in her self-absorbed Dad and her too-smart-to-be-a-victim-forever stepmom.
Even if you’re over 30 and are two steps ahead of this predigested “content” along the way, “Along for the Ride” makes a perfectly watchable/reasonably universal slice of unintentional beach nostalgia.
Even the pitfalls of such projects are preordained, as the music “the cool kids” are listening to is just here to validate the filmmaker in charge’s own musical youth. Are kids listening to indie rock by No Age, Santigold, Jade or Girls? Twenty years ago they were. You just dated yourself, Alvarez. Welcome to “old.”
I loved the “dream beach town” conjured up for all this, a lighthouse to break-into, cool cafe hidden inside a laundromat, miniature golf (A course with a grotto!) and the like. As “Along” was filmed in the Carolina Beach/Wilmington, N.C. area, the northern reaches of the “Redneck Riviera,” Colby was probably a safe bet rename if you don’t want anybody to have a drawl.
And in selecting locations and dolling everybody up, Alvarez gives this working class beach that familiar Netflix sheen of affluence, something even the great John Hughes figured out audiences would resent, after a while.
I’m a lot less forgiving for the way relationships and conversations play out in movies like this. There are bad characters, but they’re basically all adults. Potential “mean girls” are either forgotten or have their edges rubbed off in the most insipid ways.
There’s almost no friction in Auden’s “fitting in” with her cooler colleagues. The dialogue is littered with unrealistic “over sharing” confessionals, every single one received with the cliche, “I needed to hear it.”
The literariness of the parents is fingernails-on-a-chalkboard cringy. Only a YA author would think ANYone would name a kid “Thisbe.”
The leads are pleasantly bland, sort of this generation’s version of Jamie Gertz/Jennifer Love Hewitt and Leto/McCarthy.
Alvarez knows her audience and has a better idea of what they want to see than I do, so more power to her and best of luck in the future. But maybe a little more effort to skip over or at least conceal the cliches, types and tropes would make that future work more “timeless” than generic and disposable as “this year’s beach romance movie for teens.”
Cast: Emma Pasarow, Belmont Cameli, Laura Kariuki, Kate Bosworth, Dermot Mulroney and Andie MacDowell
Credits: Scripted and directed by Sofia Alvarez, based on the novel by Sarah Dessen. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:48