Credit: Well Go USA
by Morris Yang Featured Film Genre Views

Ride — Jake Allyn

June 13, 2024

Co-opting traditions as metaphors for the struggles of everyday life has always been cinema’s staple, either because these traditions romanticize the world or because they inherently represent its ups and downs for those who uphold them. Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw, raw with muted fury, venerated and castigated equally the tragic legacy of the Von Erich wrestling family, unfolding year upon year of missteps and misfortune that slowly tore its members apart. Yet for A24, its production company, The Iron Claw was a bit of an anomaly, a biopic of halcyon America that afforded glimpses into salt-of-the-earth conservatism in a time where wrestling, among other macho genres, has been thoroughly caricatured or sidestepped wholly.

But this observation comes from mainstream Hollywood’s vantage point, and outside its myopic cultural landscape lie several outfits — wholesale companies and indie filmmakers alike — dutifully churning out this aforementioned fare: sheriffs, cowboys, and the restitution of law and order. Notwithstanding overtly religious cinematic works (think God’s Not Dead and its unholy sequels) or neolib ragebait in the form of The Babylon Bee’s in-house proliferation of half-memey, all-cringey skits, there is, if not quite a renaissance, then at least a steady reinvention of the old Westerns for contemporary times. In Jake Allyn’s directorial debut, Ride, the titular action gels very literally with the violence of professional bull riding, but it also charts the vicissitudes of a family bound together by their proximity and community.

Sentimental, dignified, and with no little air of wistfulness, Ride settles in small-town Texas and follows three generations of the Hawkins family: grandfather Al (Forrie J. Smith), mostly unseen; John (C. Thomas Howell) and Monica (Annabeth Gish), a retired bull rider and his sheriff wife respectively; and Peter (Allyn), Noah (Josh Plasse, also Ride’s screenwriter), and Virginia (Zia Carlock), three siblings of different ages and dispositions. Peter, a wayward drug addict estranged from the rest, is back home after a stint in prison, while Virginia, much younger and diagnosed with multiple tumors, urgently needs treatment — costing upwards of $150,000 and nowhere near what all of them combined can cough up. Tensions mount as Peter struggles to kick off his habit while competing in the town’s rodeo tournament; John, meanwhile, wrestles with his inadequacy as a father and provider, attempting to negotiate a way forward for Virginia despite the country’s abysmal and unforgiving state of healthcare.

Ride, for the most part, is competently shot and pristinely lensed. Trails of dust envelop the rodeo sequences where Peter rises momentarily, only to fall back into trouble afterwards, and a sense of embittered but determined masculinity can be felt in the film’s reworking of Wild West tropes. Families split apart but coming back together to face adversity, the dilemma between familial duty and professional obligation that Monica faces as she investigates a homicide suspiciously close to her son, the sanctity of childhood innocence pitted against brutal adult reality — Allyn does not necessarily mythologize his characters as universal forces of good against Satanic evil, but his humanist bent, and by extension theirs, is clear.

The film, then, is all the more disappointing given its overreliance on affect rather than logic. Motivations are rendered explicit and sometimes one-dimensional, which seeks to tug at the viewer’s sense of pathos one heartstring at a time without quite embracing the contradictions of the modern neoliberal world. Ride’s frequent cross-cutting among characters, in addition, clearly engenders sympathy for their interconnected plights, but it also exposes the melodramatic artifice beneath: personalities and plot points alike tend to be leaned on whenever expedient, and subsequently jettisoned when not. Ultimately, it’s not Allyn’s devout and romanticized portrait of their quiet lives which undercuts the film’s staying power, but rather the observation that Ride, for all its emotional and thematic inroads, doesn’t quite have a center.

DIRECTOR: Jake Allyn;  CAST: C. Thomas Howell, Jake Allyn, Annabeth Gish, Forrie J. Smith;  DISTRIBUTOR: Well Go USA;  IN THEATERS/STREAMING: June 14;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 48 min.