Whenever it feels as if a movie has a secret window to our favorite playlist, we’re going to make it our mission to cover that kind of movie. If you’re looking to spend an afternoon with a film full of nostalgic vibes which also has one foot firmly in the present, Along For The Ride, (written and directed by Sofia Alvarez) might simply be Netflix’s most disarming coming-of-age film since The Half Of It. Along for the Ride perfectly captures the splendor of youth through the voice of its perfectionist teenage protagonist, Auden, featuring a series of moments which will transport the viewer to their own teenage years, ultimately managing to be more complex (think Niall McCormack’s Albatross-level of complexity and themes) than the usual Netflix fare.
Auden (named after the beloved poet W.H. Auden) is a smart, but confrontational young woman who, because she comes off as “too intense,” has been unable to to make friends at school. After having gone through the painful divorce of her mother and father (played by Andie MacDowell and Dermot Mulroney, respectfully), she’s willing to spend a summer in the town of Clyde in order to experience things she never could, having (until now) always dedicating all of her time to schoolwork. The types of activities she missed out on included making actual friends and doing normal “teenage stuff” – like trespassing, night swimming, and participating in spontaneous food fights.
Along for the Ride, an adaptation of Sarah Dessen’s YA book, evokes Marley Morrison’s Sweetheart (and pretty much every summer coming-of-age film before it), and although it doesn’t have the raw spirit of that one (or Sophia DiMartino imparting words of wisdom like, “I don’t think she wanted to dance with him…and I’m REALLY good at body language, me and Steve watched a whole documentary about it!”) it does come very close with its charming wit. On the bright side, it has a more nostalgic atmosphere and brilliant song choices. Featured in the film are AEB favorites like Nilufer Yanya, Yumi Zouma, Haiku Hands and Yeasayer, with the OST being composed by none other than the legendary Beach House, which dazzled its fans this year with its Once Twice Melody album.
The moments where Auden (played by Emma Pasarow) sits alone, reading a book, watching Eli (Belmont Cameli) ride his bike at night, or when she repeatedly goes to buy coffee from a constantly disgruntled employee, quickly establish an introduction rich in textures and sounds. Auden rubs the local girl squad the wrong way by awkwardly hooking up with the town’s “player” Jake, and then immediately regretting it. However, in a great twist, she later bonds with the three young women (who provide much of the comic relief with their antics, like dancing to Sean Paul or performing the same song with unironic intensity at parties). As she gets closer to Eli, the movie becomes more similar to Amazon Studios’ Chemical Hearts, one that also had a brilliant soundtrack and dealt with burgeoning romance as a painful “rebirth” after having been devastated by grief.
Pasarow and Cameli have excellent on-screen chemistry, and their characters constantly try to impress and save each other. Auden and filmmaker Jane Campion (who directed the recent Power Of The Dog) are name-dropped, as well as the band No Age, and for the most part, it feels like sneaking out with your friends at night and enjoying the scenery and the joyful company.
Auden definitely recalls W.H. Auden himself – a contested, but brilliant voice of 20th century poetry – in her detached wit. Just like her namesake, she (and the movie itself) has managed to split critical reception down the middle. Some have praised the female solidarity displayed throughout the film, while some have called Auden’s one-note perfectionism grating. However, if looking at the obvious source of inspiration, Auden himself was a controversial figure, perhaps as much as Evelyn Waugh (who parodied him in one of his works and commented on his move to America at the end of the 1930s by saying that Auden fled “at the first squeak of an air-raid warning”, obviously referring to the imminent second World War). Auden was never as sensible as Emily Dickinson (one of his famous quotes says that “No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.“), although he described the role of a poet as someone who prefers the company of language over grand ideas.
“‘Why do you want to write poetry?’ If the young man answers, ‘I have important things I want to say,’ then he is not a poet. If he answers, ‘I like hanging around words listening to what they say,’ then maybe he is going to be a poet.” – W.H. Auden
Perhaps his most famous poem, Funeral Blues, talks about the cruelty of death from the perspective of those left behind. In the movie, 18 months have passed since the death of the male protagonist Eli’s best friend, Abe, with Eli totally withdrawn from his friends, having given up competing in the pro BMX stage and resigned himself to fixing bikes in his shop. When he meets Auden, he is drawn to her being a “night-owl”, much like himself. After he spills her coffee by mistake, he invites her to the back of the shop to play “vertical checkers” together. However, Eli firmly refuses to go to parties and is still shaken by the fact that life went on without Abe.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one:
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods:
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
The movie isn’t without flaws, but it fits into a wave of more challenging works from 2022, with apparently unapologetic protagonists carving their way through life in a manner that is sure to divide audiences more used to characters having to make compromises. The movie doesn’t push the Auden parallels too much (in reality, the poet’s lifelong lover was Chester Kallman; however, he was also married to Erika Mann – a “lavender marriage” which allowed Auden and Mann, both gay, to move freely about the world).
The most challenging scene in the movie occurs when Auden, visibly shaken from an argument with her lazy, defeatist father, lashes out at Eli and seemingly forces him to step out of his comfort zone and back to the professional biker scene. Eli is visibly taken aback, and coming from Auden, a girl who spent her whole life in her comfort zone, it can come off as hypocritical. It can also come off as the overachieving partner in a relationship forcing the other into a lifestyle they don’t want anymore (later, when Auden’s own stepmother recalls happily giving up New York for owning a business in Clyde, she is given a definition of success she perhaps hadn’t envisioned before).
However, Auden doesn’t change her desires (her change is complete the moment she realizes she is able to “fit in”), nor does she compromise for the sake of her boyfriend. The female characters all tell the male ones to “put in the effort,” both in their relationships and in their respective professions. For this to work, the movie changes an important part in the book where Auden questions who she’s become and if she’s still the same person. By the end of the film, every character has found success and are living their dreams.
The cinematography and wonderful use of colors are the other impressive aspects of Along For The Ride, managing to imbue the nighttime scenes with a warm kind of magic that is hard to shake off. From a visual and framing standpoint, the movie is simply one of the best recent “teenage dreams”, almost crossing over into fantasy territory with a couple of scenes (like the golfing one or when Eli wears a tux in order to recreate the prom experience). As such, it manages to conjure up another W.H. Auden masterpiece, This Lunar Beauty:
This lunar beauty
Has no history
Is complete and early,
If beauty later
Bear any feature
It had a lover
And is another.
This like a dream
Keeps other time
And daytime is
The loss of this,
For time is inches
And the heart’s changes
Where ghost has haunted
Lost and wanted.
But this was never
A ghost’s endeavor
Nor finished this,
Was ghost at ease,
And till it pass
Love shall not near
The sweetness here
Nor sorrow take
His endless look.
Will Auden and Eli’s relationship last? That’s probably besides the point, because the movie’s message seems to be primarily about success. An overachiever often feels like they missed out on important parts of their life, and that they have to compensate in a short amount of time. An ability to have a social life is, for such an overachiever, just another measure of success. In that respect, Auden is one of the most unapologetic protagonists in a rom-com, and that is ultimately the movie’s biggest strength.
We haven’t talked about the songs too much, but there is already a compiled Youtube playlist of all the songs in the movie here. Our song of choice for this movie is Yumi Zouma’s Astral Projection, probably the newest song in its toolbelt, and the final part of the trilogy directed by Alex Ross Perry (one which we’ve covered back in January). By far, the best feeling the standout scenes leave you with is that of astral projecting into an intimate world created by the two protagonists and their small-town encounters, and the band explains that the song is about “leaning into bad feelings and the mixed results it brings. Learning to sit with the reality of a relationship not working out as you hoped. Looking towards the future and knowing there will be others, there will be better times, but sitting in the present moment, trying to make peace with that.“
In our opinion, the movie ends on a bittersweet note, and the song’s lyrics mirror this feeling well:
Let them cut the ties that swept in defeat
One day I’ll be calm and I’ll learn to concede
Catching my horizons
A ringing bell to mark my repeating visions
You were none the wiser
A hint of panic can do wonders for distance
I would not let it come for you
I feel free
No, I’m not your enemy
Do you all agree, it’s a possible mystery?
and later on:
Hold me in your arms, I know this wouldn’t last
I know I shouldn’t feel safe, but I do
Hearing you don’t care, I’m out of view
What would you choose if there wasn’t a plan?
What would you do if I spun ’round and ran?
You would never tell me what you knew
Along For The Ride is available on Netflix and is one of our recommended films for the month of May. We will also leave part one of Beach House’s Once Twice Melody below for you to listen, at least until they release the OST for this movie:
Featured Image is Beach House By Night by Peter de Boer
About the artist (source: Saatchi Art)
Painter Peter de Boer (Den Helder, 1979) feels strongly connected to the sea. Intense nature experiences such as described and painted in Romanticism are a source of inspiration and starting point for de Boer. On a surfboard in the North Sea, surrounded by nothing but sea and swell, with a view of the horizon or towards the beach and dunes. In it he finds an image of the infinite, the passive contemplation of the eternal, during a temporary moment.
The horizon is a foothold but at the same time is a natural limit that indicates infinity. When the sun disappears behind it, a sense of time and transience arises. Perhaps that is why we often let ourselves be tempted into melancholy when we set our sights on the horizon.
Other works by Peter De Boer
To The Ocean (2018)