'Along for the Ride' review: Teen film finds truth amid clichés

Netflix summer vacation drama is based on 2009 novel.

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Beware the dismissive prom conversation. 

Early on in the perfectly pleasant teenage coming of age drama "Along for the Ride," two characters discuss prom, and how one of them didn't get to go to hers and it's not that big a deal anyway, because who cares about prom. Well, movies like this always care about prom, and after that chat you can do worse than betting the farm that there will be some sort of grand re-creation of prom to follow. 

Emma Pasarow, Laura Kariuki, Samia Finnerty and Genevieve Hannelius in "Along for the Ride."

So even if the beats are familiar in "Along for the Ride," based on the 2009 novel by Sarah Dessen, they're handled well. 

Emma Pasarow is Auden, a quiet, socially awkward teenager who has just wrapped her senior year of high school and goes off to a seaside beach town to spend her summer with her inattentive father Robert (Dermot Mulroney) and her stepmom Heidi (Kate Bosworth). Heidi has set Auden up with a job at her boutique shop, where she works alongside a trio of slightly standoffish types, headed up by Maggie (Laura Kariuki). But eventually they warm up to Auden and once everybody gets to know each other, they have the best summer ever. 

Auden, who is something of an insomniac, meets Eli (Belmont Cameli), a Mysterious Boy With a Secret, and they spend their nighttime hours breaking down each other's defenses. They watch "The Princess Bride" together, talk Jane Campion, and he takes her to the kind of secret pie shop/hipster coffee spot that only exists in teen movies pulled from YA novels. 

It's all a little precious, with a well-curated indie rock soundtrack and a score by dream pop duo Beach House, but writer-director Sofia Alvarez, writer of "To All the Boys I've Loved Before" and its sequel, finds the heart and soul in her teenage characters. This is a goody-goody bunch, to be sure — hooking up doesn't go past making out, drugs and alcohol aren't in the picture and a good old-fashioned food fight is signaled by a character announcing "FOOD FIGHT!" at the top of his lungs — but in a cynical landscape where teens are often treated like commodities, these characters find true meaning in their mid-afternoon, free-for-all dance breaks. You might, too. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Along for the Ride'

GRADE: B

Running time: 107 minutes

Rated TV-14: language

On Netflix