You don’t always get what you bargained for at the movies – and that can be a good thing, too. Having seen the previews of this I had peremptorily dismissed it as a vomit-worthy pot-boiler – I mean, for Gawd’s sake, when it’s based on a novel by the bloke who wrote The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks), what else was I to think? As it turns out, I was completely won over. Beautiful blonde Sophia (Britt Robertson) is a college student who has been offered a job at a swank Manhattan art gallery. Luke (Scott Eastwood – Clint’s son, and he’s a chip off the old block) is a square-jawed bull-riding rodeo star who drives a red Ford pickup and is as nice as all get-out. The question of how their worlds might be brought together is answered one rainy night when they save the life of an injured motorist, the widowed Ira (Alan Alda).
In Ira’s car is a box containing all of the letters that he wrote to his late wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin – the incomparable Charlie’s grand-daughter). This is where the story gets interesting, as director George Tillman Jr takes us back and forth through time while Sophia reads those letters of the young Ira (Jack Huston) to the older, ailing man. The connection between the couples might be a bit contrived – Sophia is the art student, Ruth the art lover who collects paintings – but there is a bond established between the lovers that is impossible to deny. It is a captivating performance from Chaplin – her character carries most of the drama’s weight – but Robertson and Eastwood are good too. Love demands sacrifice, as Ira says, looking back on his years with Ruth. It is whether or not we are prepared to make those sacrifices and overcome our own blinkered pursuits that determines our lives’ paths. The period pieces are expertly handled, as is the grit and grunt of the rodeo. If the ending is schmaltzy it is nonetheless perfectly appropriate and satisfying.