Auden’s a bit awkward. Though she’s only 18, she feels as if she doesn’t quite fit in with people her age—as if she’s grown up much quicker than they have.
Like when all of the other high school seniors go to drape the school bell tower with toilet paper as they do every year, Auden remarks that the event is “essentially school-sanctioned”: The school could put a stop to it if they really cared (as the prank falls on the same day each year). And so because the school doesn’t stop it when they could, it’s technically not the transgressive act all the seniors think it is.
The others don’t really take well to her logic, leaving her to continue their plush assault on the bell tower, and an embarrassed Auden instead goes home alone.
“If this were an isolated incident, it’d be fine,” Auden laments. “But the truth is, I do this all the time.”
It’s partially because Auden grew up alone, especially after her parents divorced. Her mother’s self-righteous and controlling attitude left Auden feeling like she was always one mistake away from the rod, and her father is too invested in writing his new book to give her the time of day.
So, when an opportunity arises that lets Auden go work for her stepmom’s shop in the beach town of Colby, Auden springs at what seems to be a final chance for her to try enjoying her youth. And as insomniac Auden reads on the boardwalk at 2 a.m., she encounters Eli, a 20-year-old local who’s great on a bike and is as much of a night owl as she is. And though they hardly know one another, he’s excited to help her do all those teenage things she never got to do.
“It could be, uh, like a quest,” Eli says.
And as tends to happen when people go on quests, Auden and Eli begin to reveal to one another the things that make them who they are—the good and the bad.
Auden’s father, Robert, is extremely self-centered. He’s married a new wife, Heidi, and the two have a baby together. However, Robert is so focused on writing his new book that he gives neither Heidi nor his baby (Thisbe) much attention—let alone his daughter Auden. This eventually comes to a head when Robert and Heidi get into a fight, and Robert decides to pack up and leave for a while.
That’s when Auden openly rebukes her father. “So you’re gonna quit?” Auden asks. “You’re gonna quit on your family, again? Because it’s hard?” Auden points to the truth that marriage and parenting are commitments and not things to be tossed away when the “honeymoon phase” inevitably fades. They require sacrifice and an unconditional love rather than fluctuating emotional states. Whether they’re going through good times or bad, both people have committed to a covenant to preserve through it all together (something that Robert, who divorced Victoria before the movie began, has trouble with).
Auden’s mother, Victoria, isn’t much better. She’s cynical and domineering, wanting to control Auden’s life so much that Auden actively tries to get away from her. But in time, Victoria realizes that to really help her daughter grow, she can’t hold so tightly to her that she strangles her out. “I expected you to always be mine,” Victoria says. “When you came down here, I felt like you didn’t need me anymore. And to be blunt, I was jealous.”
But the movie doesn’t shift from one extreme to the other. It doesn’t try to claim that Auden—or any child—can only flourish if the parents go entirely hands off. In fact, Auden directly counters that. “I’ll always need you, mom,” Auden says. “I just need other people, too.” As children grow, parents must discover the painful but necessary truth that their child will always need help and reassurance, but they also need independence in order to thrive.
Perhaps the one who bonds with Auden most is her stepmom, Heidi. Though Heidi is frustrated with Robert for his lack of involvement, she treats Auden as if she were her own daughter, and she makes active attempts to help Auden feel more comfortable while in Colby—and make no mistake, it’s no easy task, as Auden’s reserved personality greatly contrasts to that of Heidi’s bubbly one. The two grow close through small selfless acts that show their love for one another, whether it’s Auden helping an exhausted Heidi take care of baby Thisbe or Heidi intentionally picking out an outfit for Auden to wear for the 4th of July.
[Spoiler Warning] Another theme prominently featured in the film is that of mourning and grief. Auden discovers early on that Eli’s best friend, Abe, died in a car accident, which caused the once-social Eli to retreat into isolation in his bike shop. Eli stopped talking about Abe and doing all the things Abe loved doing in the hope that it would dull the pain he feels. But as Eli comes to realize, bottling it all up inside is an unhealthy way to deal with the pain. By the end of the movie, Eli is able to move on and enjoy his own life again, honoring Abe not through beating himself down, but through moving forward in his life.
Gang of Youths’ song “the angel of 8th ave.” references heaven. Heidi practices yoga.
Victoria laments in her belief that society only gives women attention if they’re “married to or having sex with a more famous man,” and she explains that it’s why she won’t get married again. Auden’s stepmom, Heidi, has a clothing shop, which Victoria insults by naming it “Cupcake Glitter Breast Implants.” Victoria references women’s underwear.
Auden kisses a boy, and when she has second thoughts about the interaction, the boy asks if she is gay. While swimming in the ocean, Eli and Auden passionately kiss, causing onlookers to cheer. Heidi talks about breastfeeding and her nipples. Auden’s friend Maggie tells Auden that she was depressed that the “cool, hot girl is hooking up with” her boyfriend.
The camera focuses on a young woman’s rear as she shakes it back and forth to Sean Paul’s “Get Busy,” which references rears. “Not About You” by Haiku Hands makes a reference to thong underwear. Auden’s friend Esther is referenced to have a crush on another girl. Esther and Auden wear clothes which reveal their cleavage. People wear bathing suits and shirts which show their midriff. The song “Lust for Life” (sung by the male lead singer of the band Girls) references wanting a boyfriend and wine.
Auden crashes while riding in a shopping cart, and she falls over many times while learning how to ride a bike. Maggie informs Auden that Eli’s friend had died in a car crash due to a drunk driver. While at a drive-in, The Princess Bride plays, showing Westley fighting a Rodent of Unusual Size.
The f-word is used once, and “F’d” is used in a background song twice. The s-word is used twice. “H—,” “d–n,” “a–” and “b–ch” are all used once. God’s name is misused 18 times. Someone is called a “tool” on two occasions.
Adults drink wine. Underage adults never explicitly drink, but Auden is sent into a gas station because “she looks the oldest,” and she returns to the car with a large heavy paper bag and goes to a party. Victoria drinks wine, and she references keg stands. Robert drinks a beer.
High school students break into a bell tower and toilet paper it (though Auden notes that the school probably allows them to do it). Eli and Auden trespass onto private property.
At 2 a.m., it’s more than likely you’re sound asleep. But for Auden, who’s still at that age where staying up past two won’t utterly debilitate her, she’s out and about doing all the things she never got to do as a teen.
After her parents divorced, her mother put so much on her plate that she had to grow up quickly to adapt. As a result, she’s never really been able to bond well with people her age, as her upbringing has caused her to not only tackle things from an adult’s perspective but also forced her to miss the things that kids her age typically did while growing up.
That’s why it’s imperative that her summer away visiting her father and his new wife in Colby goes well: It’s her last summer before she’s off to college, her last summer to be a kid. She’s tired of feeling like the outcast and never doing anything that you can’t read about on her transcript.
“I don’t want to pretend to be above a life that, in actuality, I’m sad I don’t have,” Auden writes.
She doesn’t have to wait long, because when she begins to bond with Eli, a Colby local, and the two spend each night fulfilling her desire for adventure. Of course, this shocks the other locals, as Eli hasn’t really spent time with anyone for a while. And as Auden and Eli bond, they’ll both grow—in fun experiences and, more importantly, as people.
Along for the Ride is the visual adaptation of the 2009 novel of the same name by Sarah Dessen. In the adaptation, Auden begins to realize just how much her parents’ divorce has become ingrained into her. She’s become a bit standoffish and arrogant like her mother, and her father’s lack of attention has fostered in her a feeling of loneliness.
But she’s not the only one with repressed emotions. Her new friend Eli has his own painful past, covered up by deflection and clever banter. As Auden grows closer to him, she—and we—will discover just how much that past has affected the way he acts in the present.
Not all of the things they do would be approved by parents. Trespassing is seen as part of the teenage experience, and sensual lingo is used a lot—both in sexual and non-sexual manners. But the film does provide a nice look into familial reconciliation, and it discusses the appropriate ways to deal with grief.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. He doesn’t think the ending of Lost was “that bad.”