ALONG FOR THE RIDE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

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What is it about a summer beach romance? The young adult drama Along for the Ride hits some familiar beats but has a charming old-fashioned sweetness, like the fried dough or waffles and ice cream treats along the shore.

Making her feature directing debut, writer Sofia Alvarez (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) adapts best-selling author Sarah Dessen’s novel about a bright high school graduate during the summer before college.

Auden (Emma Pasarow, Am I OK?) doesn’t mean to be prickly, but she has a habit of saying biting comments without thinking of how they’ll land—a tendency she seems to have picked up from her academic mother, Victoria (Andie MacDowell, TV’s Maid). Aiming to try out new sides of herself, Auden heads to the seaside town of Colby to spend the summer with her dad, her stepmom, and their new baby.

While dad Robert (Dermot Mulroney, The Cow) writes a novel, Auden gives stepmom Heidi (Kate Bosworth, The Long Road Home) help with the accounting at her clothing boutique. After she almost hooks up with a local boy at a beach party while aiming to be daring, Auden falls into a nocturnal routine of reading on the boardwalk at night. There, she meets Eli (Belmont Cameli, Saved by the Bell, another night owl regularly taking his BMX bike out for a spin.

Eli used to ride competitively but has been keeping to himself lately, nursing a heartache that everyone in town knows. He’s drawn to hanging out with Auden because with her, he can be a clean slate. Auden likes the idea of being new, too, and when she confides there are things she’s never done because her mom found them silly, they hatch a “quest” to do them all.

Auden’s quest, like Colby, is full of mild shenanigans like trespassing, food fights, and having pie in a secret hangout with vintage arcade games and strung-up CDs that sparkle like Christmas lights. It feels unreal yet effortlessly hard to resist, thanks to Pasarow and Cameli’s amiable company. The two form a believable, gentle rapport and romantic spark, punctuated by medium shots, closeups, the glow of streetlights, and a thoughtfully chosen indie soundtrack that doesn’t feel intrusive.

After her bumpy first moments, Auden also bonds with the three girls (Laura Kariuki, Genevieve Hannelius, and Samia Finnerty) working at Heidi’s store. Their friendship grows through playful performances, with Auden in one overhead shot surrounded happily by this clutch of pals unlike any she’s had.

Along for the Ride predictably doesn’t spend too much time with the adults, but it pleasantly gives Victoria and Heidi some depth. (Robert, who remarks that “all women go nuts with a newborn,” doesn’t seem like a catch for either of them.) Bosworth, who had her own summer romance with 2002’s Blue Crush, is especially fine, showing Heidi’s bubbly front for Auden’s benefit, the new-mom stress underneath, and the wisdom from having changed her life a time or two.

Overall, Along for the Ride is an enjoyable trip.

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Valerie Kalfrin

Valerie Kalfrin is an award-winning crime journalist turned freelance film writer whose work appears at RogerEbert.com, In Their Own League, Script, The Hollywood Reporter, and other outlets. Also a screenwriter and script consultant, she’s passionate about challenging stereotypes about gender and disability. Let’s tell better stories and tell stories better.