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Sarah Dessen & Sofia Alvarez on Along for the Ride’s dreamy YA love story

Love stories never go out of style, particularly those with performances by two engaging leads, gorgeous cinematography, and an evocative soundtrack that takes viewers of all ages back to a summer where love was lost and found (and not necessarily in that order). The new Netflix film, Along for the Ride, is a superior example of the YA rom-com, and that’s largely due to the behind-the-scenes work of two women: the novelist Sarah Dessen, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, and Sofia Alvarez, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film.

In a conversation with Digital Trends, both Dessen and Alvarez talk about the genesis of Along for the Ride, both as a book and a movie, what their favorite scene is, and why the film is vital for teenagers and adults of the COVID era to watch.

Digital Trends: What compelled you to write Along for the Ride, both as a book and as an adaptation?

Auden laughs with two female friends in Along for the Ride.

Sarah Dessen: Well, the book was inspired by the birth of my daughter. I had written eight books as a daughter, you know, a lot of mother-daughter books from the daughter’s point of view. And I thought I had mothers pretty much figured out. Then I became a mother, which brought a whole rush of emotions and change. I suddenly saw mothers in a different way and definitely much more sympathetically.

I think when you become a parent, you have a lot more sympathy for your own parents because it’s a tough job. So it started with that.

Sofia Alvarez: I read Sarah’s book when they were looking for a writer to adapt it. Immediately when I was reading it, I felt like I could just see the movie version of it. I grew up loving those summertime teen movies where you can smell the sunscreen on the big screen. And in reading this book, I just saw the potential for this to be one of those movies. There were parts of it that I could relate to like Auden’s family. I thought that it would be a fun project to take on.

The film’s soundtrack by Beach House is great. How did you get them to participate?

Alvarez: So I’ve been a huge fan of Beach House for a long time. I am from Baltimore, they are from Baltimore. I have a lot of Baltimore pride. And while I had never met them, we share a lot of mutual friends. When we were talking about who could write the score for this movie, from the very beginning, I said to myself, “It has to be Beach House.” There’s just something really dreamy and nostalgic and emotional about their music that I felt like fit the world of Along for the Ride perfectly. We got instrumental versions of their albums from their manager and put those in as a temporary score, and it just felt so right. If they said no, I don’t know what I would have done because it was just only them for me.

What was your favorite scene in Along for the Ride to film?

Eli and Auden talk in a bike shop in Along for the Ride.

Alvarez: There were so many! I loved filming the pie shop scene because it was a scene that served as the audition material for Auden and Eli. I had a lot of fun writing that scene because while those two characters are strangers at that point, they immediately have a rapport and are very comfortable with one another. It’s different than other rom-coms because they don’t have to grow to be comfortable with one another. They’re kind of comfortable with one another off the bat, and they just have to grow their intimacy after that point, their physical intimacy. Filming that scene of them feeling each other out and having fun, getting to know each other in that beautiful, really cool pie shop was very fun, although it was a million degrees in there.

Sarah, what is your favorite scene in the movie versus your favorite part of the novel?

Dessen: My gosh, that’s a good question. Well, my favorite parts of the novel are the parts where the girls are just all together. Like my favorite parts as a writer to write are these big scenes where a bunch of people [are] sitting around talking and you have like six people talking at once and they’re ideally doing some activity at the same time.

The part that I love that wasn’t in the book was the scene in the car where they’re singing along with the radio together. And that’s just such a pure film moment, you know? And it’s perfect. And so there were certain moments like that where I just felt like even if it wasn’t in the book, it captured some aspect of the novel very well. And I think that’s why it’s so good to have somebody else do the screenplay. I’d be terrible, you know? You can pick out the good stuff and just get rid of the rest. I would not be good at that.

I just knew it was in good hands with Sofia, and that’s a great thing for an author to feel.

Sarah, two of your books have been adapted into one movie, How to Deal, which was released way back in 2003. Was this experience similar? And how involved were you in adapting Along for the Ride for the small screen?

Dessen: It wasn’t that similar just because there was no streaming back then. We’re talking about a movie that was in theaters only. A lot of time passed, and How to Deal was later discovered on cable. All we could hope for all those years was that the readers were going to grow into development positions and that’s kind of what happened. I mean, there was a girl named Alyssa, you know, hanging out by a pool in Arizona who really liked this book. And she’s one of the producers. She made it happen. You know, it’s pretty cool.

Now that the book has been adapted into a film, is there any chance of a sequel following Auden and Eli?

Dessen: No. I’m not a sequel person. I’ve written 14 books and none of them have sequels. They are all sort of standalone. But what I’ve done instead is there are things that overlap within the books like these Easter eggs. Growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, your life was always overlapping with all these different people. You go to the gas station and there’s the brother of the crush you had in eighth grade or whatever. And so that was kind of a fun way when people were really interested in sequels to be able to say, “Okay, I don’t have a sequel, but keep your eyes open because Auden may turn up in another book.” She hasn’t yet, but she might.

What do you want viewers to take away from Along for the Ride?

Auden leans against a green wall in Along for the Ride.

Dessen: For me, the takeaway is that it’s never too late. Be present and live your life. And I think we’re coming through this period right now where people have missed out on so much. Many of the teenagers seeing this movie have missed out on prom and on graduation and parties and spring break vacations.

I think there’s that sense of it’s not too late for a do-over. It’s not too late to check those things off your lists. And yeah, I don’t know about everybody else, but I learned during this pandemic not to put stuff off as much and be like, “Yeah, I’ll do that later.” You should do it right now because we don’t know what will happen in the future. Hopefully, that’s a message we could all use right now.

Alvarez: I think this movie has something for everyone. The romance is central, so anyone who’s coming for that classic rom-com love story will get that. But it’s also a story about mothers and daughters, parenthood, being a new mom, and a story about friendship. And I think what I really love is that both the book and the movie end with Auden and Maggie. I think back on my own life and the people who are still present, who I met when I was 18, are the friends I made and not necessarily the people I dated. The friends you make when you’re that age can stay with you throughout your whole life. And so I love that the final image we’re left with is that of Auden and Maggie together.

There are so many things to latch on to in this movie that I just hope the audience likes it and finds something in it that they can relate to, even if their experiences differ.

Along for the Ride is currently streaming on Netflix.

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Jason Struss
Section Editor, Entertainment
Jason is a writer, editor, and pop culture enthusiast whose love for cinema, television, and cheap comic books has led him to…
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