A Romantic, Book-to-Movie Adaptation
Auden West never got the childhood she wanted. Growing up with a strict, highbrow professor as a mother and an inattentive writer as a father, the high school graduate couldn’t experience the same staples of her classmates’ experiences. No parties, breaking the rules, food fights–or even learning how to ride a bike.
Based on the young adult book by Sarah Dessen, Netflix original Along for the Ride chronicles Auden’s attempts to break out of her shell and discover the person she truly wants to be. She moves to Colby to be with her dad and stepmom for the summer, but finds it isn’t so easy to make a fresh start in a new town. With the help of BMXer and fellow insomniac Eli, however, Auden utilizes the night hours to do things she never thought she could do, and discovers a few things about herself along the way.
Sofia Alvarez (screenwriter for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) writes and directs the romantic teen movie. Although, its themes of friendship, self-discovery, and familial trauma turn out to be much more compelling than Auden and Eli’s summer fling.
While the chemistry doesn’t sizzle between leads Emma Pasarow and Belmont Cameli, the actors bring a specific charm to their respective roles. Eli isn’t overly important to the story apart from how he influences Auden, but Cameli has a charismatic magnetism that draws us into Eli’s heartrending story.
It’s Pasarow’s character, however, that really resonates. Auden West perfectly captures that feeling of impostor syndrome so many teens have among their peers, that feeling like she doesn’t belong. And there’s a tangible dissonance between how Auden attempts to communicate and how she comes across to others. For someone so well-intentioned and yet so socially awkward, Auden’s struggle will be immediately relatable and sympathetic to many viewers–making her journey to belonging and self-discovery that much sweeter in its conclusion.
That journey is the most compelling part of the teen movie for its authenticity alone, but it’s not the only aspect of the film that rings as genuine. Along for the Ride is refreshing as a romantic teen movie that doesn’t caricaturize young adults or trivialize their problems.
Aside from a handful of cheesy interactions and a cliché discussion of prom, the film avoids tired tropes to pursue more authentic storylines and character arcs. It’s just when you think Along for the Ride is going to perpetuate the “mean girl clique” that it skillfully turns the cliché on its head to center in its story the importance of girls lifting up other girls.
“Have you ever done something because you’re trying to be a different version of yourself, but once you’re in the middle of it you think like, ‘Wow, this is so not me’?” For Auden, self-searching and reinvention is an awkward, trial-and-error process. It’s one that’s easy to invest oneself in, if only for its sheer relatability–but also for the positive messages that can be derived from her story: of pursuing relationships, trying new things, and embracing change. As Auden’s stepmother Heidi says, “Life is long… It’d be boring if we had to stay the same versions of ourselves the whole time.”
Along for the Ride may not have all the charismatic draw and chemistry as To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but Sofia Alvarez’ directorial debut still shines in its own right. If you’re looking for a romantic teen movie–or you’re just nostalgic for 2000s Sarah Dessen–give this Netflix original a watch.
Read More: Along for the Ride Ending Explained
Verdict - 7/10