Grab your helmet and brush off your bike, because Along for the Ride, based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Sarah Dessen (Viking), is coming to Netflix. Starring Emma Pasarow (Super Pumped) and Belmont Cameli (Saved by the Bell) as the two main characters and produced by Screen Arcade, the movie is set to start streaming on May 6.
The film was written and directed by Sofia Alvarez (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before); executive produced by Erika Hampson (Ava), Sian McArthur (Pitch Perfect), and newcomer Alyssa Rodrigues; and produced by Eric Newman (Narcos) and Bryan Unkeless (I, Tanya).
When Auden West (Pasarow) decides to take up her father’s (Dermot Mulroney, Hanna) offer to spend her summer before college in the quaint beach town of Colby, N.C., she is disappointed to learn that he does not have time for any father-daughter bonding while he’s working on his novel. Frustrated that her summer is going south, Auden agrees to help her stepmother, Heidi (Kate Bosworth, The I-Land) at her boutique, Clementine’s. Unable to sleep due to insomnia, she meets the mysterious Eli Stock (Cameli) one night and finds out that he works at the bike shop next to her stepmother’s store. Growing closer, the two decide to embark on a quest to help Auden experience the fun carefree teen life Auden never realized she wanted.
The supporting cast includes Andie MacDowell (Maid) as Auden’s mother, Genevieve Hannelius (American Vandal) as Leah, Laura Kariuki (The Wonder Years) as Maggie, and Paul Karmiryan (Veronica Mars) as Adam.
Since the book’s release in 2009, Dessen said she had several conversations about making a film version. “I’ve had talks with other people who have wanted to do adaptations and sometimes it just doesn’t click,” Dessen told PW. “You can tell the person has their own agenda. But I really felt with [Alvarez] she got it and when I read the script I was like, ‘Okay, I’m good.’ It was like the dream team.”
This isn’t the first book-to-film adaptation for Alvarez, who worked on the To All the Boys movie series. “That was hugely helpful because that was the first YA rom-com love story that I adapted,” Alvarez recalled. “By the time Along for the Ride came up and I was asked if I was interested in adapting this, I felt really confident.” After To All the Boys, Alvarez wanted to challenge herself further, taking on the role of both screenwriter and director.
Her taking on two roles enhanced the film in unexpected ways, the soundtrack reflecting one such enhancement. “For every screenplay that I do, I make a playlist to write to; they really help me get in the head space of the characters,” Alvarez said. “Since I was directing this movie, when I started talking to our music supervisors, Jane Abernethy and Jessica Berndt, I was like, ‘I have all these playlists that I wrote to, and I would love to share them so you can get a sense of what I think the mood of the movie is.’ And they created for me a whole other playlist inspired by that. Most of the songs in the movie are a combination [of the two].”
Dessen fondly recalls the moment one of the songs from the movie played in an elevator that she and her family were riding. “There was just something in the air that it all came together. I was literally in an elevator in Asheville, North Carolina, in October and one of the songs for a pretty big moment in the movie [was playing]. When I hear one of these songs, it’s like a sign. It’s one of the only scripts I’ve read where it was very specific about some of the music for specific scenes.”
Eagle-eyed readers will spot the author making a cameo appearance, along with other people from the film crew. “There was one scene they were shooting and they needed extras [due to a shortage because of Covid restrictions], and Alyssa Rodrigues, who actually read my books as a teenager, got the ball rolling with Bryan Unkeless. She’s sitting there, and [Alvarez] is like, ‘We need somebody else for this., Alyssa .can you [join]?,” Dessen said with a laugh. “I was so embarrassed because the whole crew was watching but everybody was so nice. The producers were even practicing my one line with me.”
Fan favorite character Clyde is played by the movie’s art director, David S. Bridson. “There was a minute where we were like, ‘Oh, we should ask Christian Slater to do it,’ ” Alvarez said. “But then I was like, ‘You know who is Clyde? David Bridson. Look at him, he’s like 6’5”, he’s covered in tattoos, wears black t-shirt shirts [and band [shirts]? to set every day.” I was like, ‘He is the guy who owns the bike shop and owns this secret pie shop in Colby. I just know it.”
Unfortunately, a scene that won’t be making an appearance on screen is the subplot with Auden’s brother, Hollis, and his wife. “He made it through a couple of drafts,” Dessen said. “He was there [for filming] but it just became too complicated. The problem we’ve always had with getting my books adapted is there’s too much happening.”
But little details, such as Booty Berry, a perfume from the book that’s sold in Clementine’s, will be appearing on screen. “There are things throughout the movie that hint at the other books,” Dessen revealed. “My hope is that a lot of new people will come in, but I think the hardcore readers will catch the Easter eggs.”
Alvarez is excited for readers to experience an intimate moment between Eli and Auden driving as they steal glances with each other. “I think it’s very evocative of that time and feels very special to me,” she said. “[It] just feels very exciting, like a bottled energy of youth and nostalgia.” She’s also proud of a scene in the pie shop between Eli and Auden. “We went to this empty warehouse and got Connect Four, which they’re playing in the pie shop, and I just let them improve,” Alvarez said. “That scene is meant to have this energy of two people who are strangers, but are sort of oddly comfortable with each other while they’re feeling each other out.”
The film may be based on a YA book, but it has a message that its creators feel will resonate with all ages. “Whether you are in high school right now, or are looking back, it’s always been a book about the things that you miss and what does it really mean to be a whole person,” Alvarez said. “This movie is coming out with the pandemic behind us in a way. There are so many teenagers who missed these big life events, [along with] the rest of us. It’s this whole idea of do-overs: ‘Let’s try to remake these things that we missed.’ ”
Alvarez will soon be coming out with a play she wrote during the pandemic, along with other projects. And Dessen’s fans will be pleased to know the author has a new book idea in mind. “I am making myself wait until all of this film stuff kind of dies down a little bit and my daughter goes off to camp in mid-June, so the minute I drop her at camp, I am gonna start writing,” Dessen shared. “It’s been rough. I’ve thrown a few books away and I want to be honest about that with people. This pandemic was not good for my writing. I’m climbing out of it now, so stay tuned.”