‘Along for the Ride’ Review: Becoming a Kid Again

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A Netflix adaptation turns a best-selling novel by Sarah Dessen about a perfectionist teenage girl into a slick and breezy, Instagram-friendly story.

Teenage girls have been gobbling up Sarah Dessen’s books for years, so fans are no doubt breathlessly awaiting a Netflix adaptation of “Along for the Ride,” her best-selling 2009 novel. Unfortunately for them, the movie is lacking much of Dessen’s trademark depth.

The story follows Auden West (Emma Pasarow), a studious introvert whose divorced, academic parents (played by Dermot Mulroney and Andie MacDowell) raised her like a small adult, scorning childhood frivolity.

As she spends the summer before college with her father, stepmother (Kate Bosworth) and newborn half sister, some unexpected new friends teach Auden the value of fun. Chief among them is Eli (Belmont Cameli), a boy who works at the local bike shop and, like Auden, has a troubled past and a penchant for staying up all night.

This film, written and directed by the “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” screenwriter Sofia Alvarez, has the same basic plot as Dessen’s book, plus some injections of teenage indie appeal like Luca Del Puppo’s warmly lit cinematography, several Vans product placements and music by Beach House. But such a breezy, Instagram-friendly adaptation feels like a betrayal to Dessen’s original, neurotic protagonist, who has a more difficult journey from self-induced solitude to romance. Where book-Auden avoided friendship, femininity and emotion with frustrating frequency because of her restrictive upbringing, movie-Auden is basically a chill girl with a smidgen of baggage.

The other characters — especially Auden’s parents — are similarly underwritten, so the film is left grasping for conflict or clear stakes. Dessen’s novel offered a main character paralyzed by perfectionism. This film makes her ironically, boringly, perfect.

Along for the Ride
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. Watch on Netflix.