Along For The Ride Review: Dessen Adaptation Is As Good As To All The Boys

Netflix’s latest teen-focused romance movie is Along for the Ride, based on the 2009 Sarah Dessen novel of the same name. It’s the first of Netflix’s adaptations of Dessen’s popular young adult novels, with the streaming service having optioned the rights for two others, This Lullaby and Once and For All. For its part, Along for the Ride also serves as the directorial debut of Sofia Alvarez, who penned the script as well. The filmmaker wrote Netflix’s wildly popular teen rom-com To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and its sequel, To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You — both of which were also based on young adult novels, though by Jenny Han. Along for the Ride follows in its stead. Along for the Ride captures the magic of young adulthood and first love, delivering a relatable coming of age story with a sweet romance.

The movie follows 18-year-old Auden West (Emma Pasarow), who goes to stay with her father Robert (Dermot Mulroney) in the small beachside town of Colby during the summer after graduating high school. But with her father focused on his new novel and her stepmother Heidi (Kate Bosworth) preoccupied with their new baby, Auden spends most of her time working in Heidi’s clothing boutique and staying up late. One night, Auden meets the mysterious Eli (Belmont Cameli), who shows her the best spots to go late at night in Colby. With Eli’s help, Auden embarks on a quest to have more normal teen experiences after spending much of her high school years focused on work and impressing her mother Victoria (Andie MacDowell). Along the way, Auden learns more about Eli, befriends the girls who work at her stepmother’s store — Maggie (Laura Kariuki), Leah (Genevieve Hannelius) and Esther (Samia Finnerty) — and discovers the kind of person she wants to be.

Related: Along for the Ride Trailer Reveals First Look At Netflix’s Sarah Dessen Movie

Like many Dessen novels, Along for the Ride weaves together both coming-of-age and romance plot beats, creating young female characters whose stories don’t necessarily revolve around love and relationships, but recognize those are a part of growing up. Alvarez has a deft hand in adapting Dessen’s work by keeping Auden’s story well-rounded and balanced between her relationship with her parents and her budding romance with Eli. Alvarez was, of course, instrumental to the success of To All the Boys as its writer, but her directing abilities are on display for the first time with Along for the Ride, and she proves to have a sharp understanding of how to keep the spirit of the book alive while creating a movie that’s fresh and modern while still feeling timeless. Both Dessen and Han have amassed legions of fans for their young adult novels, and Alvarez should get the same amount of praise and attention for delivering such excellent movies based on the authors’ works.

For their parts, the cast certainly helps to make the movie as compelling as it is, with Pasarow especially giving a performance that helps to sell Auden as a relatable awkward teen who’s finally coming into her own personhood through her experiences in Colby. Pasarow’s talent is especially on display when acting opposite MacDowell and Mulroney as her parents, with all three managing to bring a great amount of depth to the fraught relationships between the family. Bosworth, too, is fun and charming as Heidi even as she’s tasked with the tough job of walking a line between annoying stepmother and sympathetic new mother. However, the real heart of Along for the Ride comes from Pasarow’s Auden interacting with the younger characters, particularly Cameli’s Eli. Thanks to their performances, it’s a delight to watch the tentative, burgeoning relationship unfold between the two characters. There may be more to the story of Along for the Ride than the romance, but Pasarow and Cameli certainly deliver a sweetly charming dynamic.

In addition to Alvarez’s script and directing, and the casts’ performances, the music by Beach House in Along for the Ride creates a fresh and carefree atmosphere for the movie that perfectly fits the mood of Auden’s story. Using songs by the likes of Troye Sivan and Santigold, the Along for the Ride soundtrack helps to give the summer teen movie a unique, but contemporary ambiance. The music fits the current moment while avoiding songs that are too popular and therefore too defined by any particular time. Beach House’s soundtrack helps Along for the Ride feel like a timeless teen story that will remain relevant and relatable for a long time.

Netflix has made itself a destination for movie adaptations of young adult novels from the aughts and 2010s, thanks in part to Alvarez’s work on the To All the Boys movies and, now, Along for the Ride. Ultimately, Along for the Ride is a charming and compelling coming-of-age romance movie. It’s an excellent adaptation of Dessen’s novel, but stands on its own as a teen-focused drama, which is no easy feat. Fans of Dessen’s work, and those who enjoyed To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, would do well to check out Along for the Ride. Those that give the film a chance will likely enjoy this quirky and cozy teen drama.

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Along for the Ride releases on Netflix Friday, May 6. It is 106 minutes long and is not yet rated.