When filmmaker Sofia Alvarez read Sarah Dessen’s novel Along for the Ride, she immediately imagined a film adaptation.
“I really grew up watching those summer teenage movies where you could feel the weather or feel like the air conditioner was too cold,” Alvarez told TheWrap during an interview about her film adaptation, which she wrote and directed. “You could feel the humidity and smell the sunscreen through the screen, and I just thought ‘Along for the Ride’ had the potential to be one of those summer movies.”
Along for the Ride tells the story of Auden West (played by Emma Pasarow in the film) who is a summer away from going to Defriese University. Auden’s parents separated when she was younger and she lived with her mother (Andie MacDowell) through high school, but for the summers she decides to visit Colby, a small beach town where her father (Dermot Mulroney), his new wife Heidi (Kate Bosworth) and their newborn daughter Thisbe live.
Alvarez is no stranger to writing adaptations — she adapted To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and the first sequel PS I Still Love You for Netflix — and as part of her adaptation writing process, Alvarez has managed to rule, read the book once and then build the script from the parts of the book that caught her eye when she first read it.
“Sarah Dessen was so wonderful that before I wrote a word, we had a three hour chat where we got to know each other,” Alvarez said. “And this conversation was so useful because a lot of our thoughts aligned. She told me that the original name of the book was World of Girls and one of the things I really responded to about the book was all the relationships between the women in it. Sarah wrote the book when she was a new mom. She wrote it when her daughter was a toddler and I adapted the book when my son was also a newborn. And so, in that way, we came from a very similar place.”
When it came to casting the film that marks Alvarez’s directorial debut, the filmmaker had strong feelings about the role of Auden.
“I really wanted Auden to be [played by] an unknown actor. Sarah Dessen has such a huge fan base and I wanted them to feel like this character they love came to life from the book and not be like, ‘Oh, this actor I know is playing Auden ‘ but like, ‘Oh, that’s like this person I pictured in my mind.'” Alvarez said. “She just walked off the side on my cinema screen.”
Part of Auden hopes her time in Colby will be different than her high school years, when she had few friends and mostly kept to herself. Aside from her own mother, Auden doesn’t have many close female friendships at the start of the story. She even embraces her old habit of staying up late, drinking coffee and either reading or driving around the small town. Then she meets Eli.
Eli, another insomniac, cycles the boardwalk at night when no one else (except Auden) can see. His best friend Abe died returning from a sports bike race, so Eli refuses to ride his bike in front of others. After passing Auden at his usual spot for a few nights, he approaches her and leads her to a hidden gem of a diner.
“That’s a scene from the book that I really love,” Alvarez said. “I love that they’re strangers in this scene, but they’re strangers who feel like they already know each other in a way. They just have this simple relationship and I think they’re comfortable with each other. David, who is our art director and plays Clyde, was a punk DJ in Malibu in the 80’s, so we had long conversations about what this song should be. […] I think this place is magical when they walk in, and then I think when this song comes on it’s even more magical.”
After meeting Auden, Eli suggests that she head out and do a quest full of things she’s never done before, sort of like a bucket list.
“Eli is someone Auden connects with very quickly and they get comfortable very quickly, but it takes her a touch longer to find the same comfort with the women in the film, both Maggie and the other girls she’s with.” who she’s friends with at Clementine, but also at her stepmother,” Alvarez said. “So [it’s] Bridging those two storylines together and making it feel like a romance that’s why we all come to these YA movies I think is that you want to see them together, but that idea of female friendship was an equally important part and it is something that was just as important for Auden to find in Colby.”
Despite the fact that “To All the Boys” only came out four years ago, Alvarez says the landscape in which she wrote “Along for the Ride” has changed significantly. And adding directing duties challenged her – in a good way.
“When I wrote ‘To All the Boys,’ I was just the screenwriter, and I wrote it before this huge teen rom-com boom had its moment,” she said. “And then with ‘Along for the Ride’ The biggest difference was that this is an established genre at this point, but I also knew I would be directing. It wasn’t just about writing it, and it wasn’t just about the story. It was about building the whole world. And, you know, what would Colby be like and who would we cast, and I felt like I could be very free in writing. Because I knew those decisions would fall on me.”
Note: Spoilers for the ending of Along for the Ride will be discussed in the remainder of this article.
Alvarez’s adaptation satisfies both the sugary hope of rom-coms and the more realistic side of young love. Auden and Eli both have their weaknesses and own their mistakes.
“I think when you look at the end of the movie, that scene feels very real where they’re talking in the parking lot and they have this reconciliation with each other and it’s clear they get on well with one another.” They’re not angry anymore, but it’s also not clear that if they have this conversation, they’re going to have a relationship,” she said. “I think it feels very real and very lifelike that you are having this experience with someone, you both care deeply for each other and maybe even love each other but you have kind of a disagreement along the way. And you apologize, but then you’re not sure how to get back on track.”
More than the relationship is at the heart of the film, with family issues and past losses anchoring the lighter moments.
“I love that the next morning after [the fight] happens, [Auden] sleeps through the night, she showers and looks in the mirror and I think the moment she looks in the mirror she thinks I’m okay with myself,'” Alvarez said. “‘I’m good with myself. This summer has kind of come to an end and I’m fine.’ And I think the real-life version of this movie ends with Auden being good to himself, but because this is a rom-com and we’re in the business of wish-granting, I have a feeling who doesn’t want in the moment , after they realize that they agree with themselves, for the person they like to sit on their front lawn.”
As with all high school love stories, Eli and Auden’s doesn’t exactly fade away, but she goes to college while he’s back on his bike.
“I just love that the movie ends with Auden and Maggie because I feel like the friends you make at that age are the people who end up staying in your life longer than maybe the people who you fell in love with at that age,” she said. “So it feels very real to me that the last shot in the film is that you know their door at college but with Auden and Maggie’s stuff on it and you know that Eli and Auden changed each other for the better . Whether Eli and Auden stay together or not, she will have this friendship with Maggie for the rest of her life.”