‘Along for the Ride’ Adapts Sarah Dessen’s Novel Into a Sweet Romance 

Netflix’s “Along for the Ride” is another one of those YA adaptations about a teenager who feels they’ve missed out on all the good stuff. What makes this one a rather endearing watch is how it isn’t so much about antics but about being sheltered through no fault of your own. Sometimes the adults are indeed wrong and the hard truth is age doesn’t mean our flaws just disappear. Director Sofia Alvarez  adapts a novel by Sarah Dessen with the expected feel of teenage wanderlust but never veers too far away from genuine conflict. “What’s special about this movie is that it’s about a lot of things,” star and newcomer Emma Pasarow tells Entertainment Voice. “It’s about romance, family and finding yourself. In life we’re dealing with so many things at once. That summer between high school and college is when a lot of people really ask who they want to be.”

Pasarow plays Auden, one of those studious students who never had much time to party hard. She even hesitates on partaking in her prep school’s tradition of pranking the campus bell tower the day after graduation. To the annoyance of her snobbish mom, Victoria (Andie MacDowell), Auden decides to spend the summer with her father Robert (Dermot Mulroney) at Colby, the seaside town where he lives with new, younger wife Heidi (Kate Bosworth). Auden’s inner goal is to find some real freedom and maybe do some of those adventurous adolescent checklist items honor students shy away from. She starts working at a small shop run by Heidi, where she makes friends with the other store crew, also fresh out of high school. Then, by chance she meets Eli (Belmont Cameli), a free spirit on his bike rumored to have been an aspiring BMX athlete. He takes her to secret pie shops and teaches her how to ride, while harboring his own scars from a tragic loss.

“When I got the part I found out I had a lot of friends that are huge Sarah Dessen fans,” Belmont Cameli tells Entertainment Voice. “Sarah built this wonderful world. She and Sofia then collaborated on transferring it over into this film format. It was a gift to play around in this world. It’s a very personal story but also for everybody.” Like Marvel movies, YA adaptations tend to feature their own, specific touches. Some of them may raise a few millennial eyebrows, like Zoomers apparently liking to dance to Sean Paul before starting the workday. Yet Alvarez looks at the familiar from new angles. Auden is the straight-A student who missed out on rebellion, but once we meet the adults we can see why her confidence has taken longer to blossom. Victoria thinks being uptight and judgmental builds character. Robert is a published author and professor too selfish and obsessed with his needs. Heidi is the “cool” stepmom who wants to make Auden feel welcome, even as she struggles with raising a baby with no help from Robert. These are the authority figures in Auden’s life, and unlike other YA ideal adults, they are closer to what people are actually like.

“Stereotypically the stepmom is always villainous,” Kate Bosworth tells Entertainment Voice. “I’ve been a stepmom for eleven years. I always say it’s the greatest role in my life. Heidi is so inherently warm and funny, but it comes from the desperation of wanting to be liked by your partner’s child. It’s like, ‘please! Please like me!’ So I really jumped at the chance as an opportunity to pay homage to that part of my life.” Each adult is trying to get Auden to like them with plenty of guilt. She’s also eager to get her new friends to like her. Like any teen, she sees them at first with quiet envy, as they do liquor runs and go out to the beach. We don’t get the debauched fever dreams of “Euphoria” or even the slapstick wildness of “Booksmart.” Alvarez’s directing has a warm melancholia. Auden feels alone and Eli seems to be the only one her gets her. He also carries his own baggage. One of the hardest lessons in life is trust.

“I know truth in a screenplay, which is why I took on this role,” Dermot Mulroney tells Entertainment Voice. Like Bosworth, Mulroney started young as an actor in titles that continue to influence movies like this one. “Sure a lot of the focus will be on the romance but I like Robert so much. It’s strange to say, but he can be approached from an almost youthful perspective. To Auden he’s her loving father but is going through his second marriage, a new kid and still can’t focus on paying attention to what needs attention. While acting I thought I was pretty cool, but when you watch it, that’s not the case for Auden (laughs). It’s what happens when your work or craft takes over your life.” The great lesson Auden learns from a clearer view of her parents and later of Eli, is how to be independent in the sense that you have to set your own course. “Emma brought such truth to it all. Our points of view as an older and younger actor may be different sometimes, but we’re always true to them. Sofia’s eloquent direction then captures how those points converge in the story. The dad’s just not aware he’s not there for his daughter, despite thinking he’s doing a good job.”

Almost every month Netflix, and its fellow streamers, release some new title mined from the YA bestseller charts. At the same time, there are clear reasons why these stories resonate. The photography and soundtrack may pop with candy colors and soft light, while underneath are serious, relatable feelings. “I grew up watching a lot of John Hughes movies and I feel like YA movies are coming back to that, to a more grounded place,” says Bosworth. “I also grew up watching ‘Felicity,’ which was by J.J. Abrams and he was doing a lot of grounded, coming-of-age character stories. I think we might be coming back to that. You’re going to see stories that are just more grounded. I love the more extreme stuff, but I like movies about normal people. This is a great example of that.”

Along for the Ride” begins streaming May 6 on Netflix.