Hollywood loves a formula, and what is more by-the-numbers than a Nicholas Sparks story? Basically, you get two parallel eye-moistening narratives followed by something that hews closer to Cinderella than Romeo and Juliet. It sells a lot of tickets, and at any screening, the amount of Kleenex used roughly outweighs the popcorn consumed, so it’s good for the economy.
This film isn’t terrible even though the title seems like a sexy double entendre and really means a lot less than it promises. Since the cute meeting takes place at a bull-riding rodeo, we get a lot of American paradox on display — the college girl who craves big-shouldered cowpokes. Alan Alda stars as the elder idealist whose yore-day love story (World War II, naturally, since the costumes are so cool) provides inspirational grist for rough-riding Luke (Scott Eastwood, Clint’s spawn) and Sophia (Britt Robertson), an art student and future gallery worker. Career clichés abound.
But the film is a little too long, and the pain of love is nowhere near as dramatic as the romantic courting is super sweet. Heartbreak is an art best left to good actors like Ryan Gosling, who sold the slow burn in The Notebook. Eastwood and Robertson seem more petulant than wounded. Predictably, Alda makes us misty. In the end, it doesn’t matter for those who want to feel love’s labors win again. The era’s most successful romance writer keeps repeating his formula, and love still tears us apart.