In “Along For The Ride”, the Netflix algorithm navigates on autopilot

After an engaging opening sequence that uses conventional expectation against the bait of reality and changes to introduce Auden (Emma Pasarow), a protagonist with an endearing dilemma to tell – the realization that one has lived through her years of high school in a boring, decidedly un-John – Hughes-style –On the way for the ride tries to slow down this initial momentum for a fleeting hour and a half.

The directorial debut of writer Sofia Alvarez, the scribe behind the film adaptation of To all the boys I loved beforeone of the most distinctive entries in the Netflix YA canon to date, with the first of its sequels, Along the ride is adapted from the novel of the same name by YA powerhouse Sarah Dessen. Despite a solid start, the film ultimately fails to live up to the charm one hopes to find in an Alvarez or Dessen story – but more on that later. First, the story.

After spending most of her teenage years aiming for sophistication to impress her college mother, Victoria (Andie MacDowell, continuing the string of non-traditional mothering roles that have made up the bulk of her filmography in recent years), Auden decides to spend the summer between high school and college with her absentee dad Robert (Dermot Mulroney, giving zero) and his perky new wife Heidi (Kate Bosworth) doing all the normal teenage things she’s teased before, like going to bonfires and kissing boys she doesn’t know. Much to Victoria’s chagrin, instead of pursuing an internship to flesh out her resume, Auden will spend the summer in the seaside town of Colby, working in Heidi’s boutique while Heidi stays home with the new half-brother. born of Auden.

However, kissing a boy she doesn’t know at a bonfire on the beach turns out to be less enjoyable than Auden had anticipated, in part because said boy is an upside-down jerk type without technical, and partly because he’s the recent ex of popular local girl Maggie (Laura Kariuki) who, along with her beta friends Leah (Genevieve Hannelius) and Esther (Samia Finnerty), are also Auden’s new co-workers. . It seems a new change of scenery can’t stop Auden from falling back into the same old socially isolated patterns – until his lonely nighttime strolls along the boardwalk lead him to cross paths with the mysterious and handsome midnight biker Eli (Belmont Cameli), who has just enough beach boy flair to remind you how amazing Heath Ledger was. To be clear, Cameli doesn’t fill that big void or even part of it. It’s more like salt in the wound.

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Anyway, all of the above, and then some, happens within the first ten minutes of the film. It’s a solid first ten minutes. Easy, airy and sufficiently engaging entertainment. The problem is what happens next.

The experience of watching On the way for the ride is best described as opening a shiny gift box to find it’s full of packing peanuts. And you rummage through the packing peanuts hoping to find some treasure protected inside, but no, that’s it. It’s just a nice box filled with bits of foam from nothing. Nothing actually happens for the next hour or so of the movie. And then suddenly, it’s over. The characters go from not understanding they have issues to dissecting their own issues with the kind of eloquence that is usually only achieved through years of work and quality therapy as if by magic. Relationships show no progress and are then magically healed. And none of that is good “movie magic” magic – it’s the lame kind of quackery where you can see the threads and the trick card up the magician’s sleeve.

There are those who belittle YA movies for their motives, worn-out tropes, and fantastically idyllic conclusions. I myself am a firm believer that these genres of comfort food, with their easy familiarity that you can slip into like comfy slippers, can still make for great movies, even great movies. If the set-up and payoff is well done, the characters are fun to watch, and the dialogue is witty, no matter how familiar the pacing of the story is, it can still be a good time. . This movie isn’t good, and it’s not because it covers a lot of familiar territory, or even because it’s predictable – it’s because it doesn’t do those familiar, predictable things well.

There are many parts of On the way for the ride it doesn’t really work. The character’s paths are not arcs but flat lines. Dialogue that’s extremely stiff and flavorless with the only occasional spark of life. The fact that Auden and Eli have -5 chemistry. But the most distinctive flaw in all of this is that these flaws, on the whole, don’t feel like accidents, but choices. It’s a film with more attention to detail and effort put into the first 10 minutes than the remaining 90 minutes combined – long-form content built on the presumption that the average viewer has an attention span of around 10 minutes, and instead of trying to overcome that hurdle, is more or less designed to be a fun intro and then background noise. It’s, in a way, a microcosm of the kind of content Netflix’s algorithm tends to create in a way that really explains why, as the streaming wars escalate, Netflix isn’t the monster. invincible as perhaps once believed.

On the way for the ride is now streaming on Netflix.

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Header image source: netflix

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