The Stars of ‘Along For The Ride’ Are Setting an Example for Young Women: ‘The Second You Become a Girls’ Girl, You’re Set’

·12-min read

Fans of “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” beware. “Along for the Ride,” a new young adult film from writer-director Sofia Alvarez, is arriving on Netflix May 6, and the book-to-screen adaptation is one that definitely calls for a box of tissues.

The film stars Emma Pasarow as Auden, a recent high school graduate who is spending the summer visiting her dad and stepmom in the beach town of Colby, where she knows no one and is still dealing with the fallout from her parents’ divorce. She quickly makes a deep connection with Eli (Belmont Cameli), a fellow insomniac who shows Auden the joy she’s missing in her life on nightly escapades. And although she has a rough start making friends with the other girls in town — a pre-existing trio by the names of Leah (Genevieve Hannelius), Esther (Samia Finnerty) and Maggie (Laura Kariuki) — they eventually bond after putting jealousy and bad first impressions aside, living the truest experience of being a teenager in between life stages, with nothing to lose except fear.

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Variety sat down with the Pasarow, Hannelius, Finnerty and Kariuki, all of whom come from different backgrounds, but found themselves as closely bonded by the end of their summer shoot in North Carolina as their characters are in the movie. All four are relatively new to the world of film. Hannelius has had roles on a number of Disney Channel shows and some film credits over the last 13 years; Finnerty is an indie music artist who goes simply by her first name, Samia; while Kariuki and Pasarow both have some TV experience from acting on ABC and Showtime, respectively.

When Variety spoke with three of them, with the exception of Finnerty (who gave her answers in a phone call separately), they were overjoyed to be seeing each other for the first time “in months.” They each spoke about their love for the film’s director, whom they refer to as “Fia,” what they hope the film communicates to its audience about female friendships and the possibility of a “High School Musical”-like adaptation of the film.

At the bottom of the page, check out an exclusive clip from “Along For The Ride” ahead of its release on Friday.

This movie looked like so much fun to film. What was the process like?

SAMIA FINNERTY: It was like summer camp. Everyone was sweet and everyone got along really well. Everyone just happened to be people that I would have wanted to be friends with out of the context of making this movie. I didn’t know what to expect going in, because it was really my first time doing something like this and I only have good memories.

GENEVIEVE HANNELIUS: Honestly, it did not feel like work when we were in between filming scenes. We were just playing games and having a freaking blast, like this cast all clicked so well, and I think that really comes through in the film… When I wasn’t filming, I was hanging out at the beach and just enjoying the on-set location. It was totally a summer dream.

That chemistry you all had as friends was really evident. Why do you think that’s so important to portray in a story like this, especially for a younger audience, since the movie starts with some tension and jealousy?

EMMA PASAROW: I feel like at least for Auden, we meet her at the beginning of the movie in a place where she doesn’t have many female friendships. And her idea of what an empowered woman looks like largely comes from her mother, Victoria, who is incredibly smart and empowered and wonderful. But it’s only one version of that, and it isn’t until she moves to Colby and watches these incredible women, all of her friends and her stepmom, Heidi, that she’s like, “Oh wait, being smart looks like a lot of different things.”

LAURA KARIUKI: We’re not all the same, but a good thing that this film shows is how we can embrace each other’s differences and that we’re not as different as you would expect. The reason it is so off in the beginning is just the whole Jake situation, the ex-boyfriend of Maggie [who Auden pursues]. But once Maggie realizes that Auden doesn’t know her, she doesn’t know Jake, she doesn’t know our history, I can just put that aside and be a girls’ girl. I think the second you become a girls’ girl, you’re set.

Samia, what was the process like for you to find your character, Esther? And how would you say preparing for a role like this compares to your process in music?

FINNERTY: I was really excited to get to play this character because she’s definitely the weirdest one and reminded me a lot of myself in high school in some ways. And I just love how much her friends who are super different from her still respect and love her and let her be her weird self and shine, even though she maybe wouldn’t fit in with them in another context. Music plays such a strong role in the film. Fia, the director, was really intentional with her choices and the world she wanted to place the story in sonically, and I just geeked out. I felt so lucky that Esther had really good taste in music.

What was the story with “January Wedding,” the song you sing at the campfire scene in the film?

FINNERTY: Oh my God. I love the Avett Brothers and I was stoked when they asked me to sing it. I was so nervous. I don’t know why it’s easier for me to sing when I’m performing as a band than it is as an actor. That was more nerve-wracking than any show I’ve ever played. But Logan, the guy who is playing with me, is so talented and so sweet and everyone made me feel comfortable.

How did the rest of you craft your characters? And how much were your interpretations based on the original book?

KARIUKI: For me, it was a balancing thing, because I did read the book while we were filming, and it’s a matter of taking from that and taking from Fia’s adaptation, and then bringing yourself into it because I feel like that’s what makes a character super special.

HANNELIUS: Working with Fia, she’s such an amazing hands-on actors’ director. She really helps you develop the character. So I came in with who I thought Leah was, and she really helps you mold and define the character.

PASAROW: The book is from Auden’s perspective, so it was really helpful in navigating her thoughts because a lot of times Auden doesn’t say what she means, and there’s a dissonance between what’s going on in her interior and what she does with her body and her mouth and her her words… But Fia gave us permission to make it our own. A lot of times she would have us improvise into it. I felt like I was both playing a part, but then also, relationship-wise I was just having fun with these incredible people.

Genevieve, you’ve worked on a lot of projects targeted towards younger audiences. I’m curious what you’ve found in your experience from other projects that you brought to this and how this was different from other things that you’ve worked on.

HANNELIUS: Working with a female director is something that’s always just been a dream of mine. I haven’t done that, and it was just such an amazing experience to work with her. So that really excited me right off the bat. These stories about teenagers can become very cliche, very stereotyped, like it was written by an old white man. This was beautiful because it felt so real. I really felt connected to Auden and all her complexities, and I really felt like viewers would feel the same way. All the characters are so beautiful and well-developed, so that’s what really hooked me. It’s a love story, but it is also about strong female friendships. Those are just things that are really important for young people to see on screen.

Laura Kariuki, Emma Pasarow and Genevieve Hannelius in “Along For The Ride.” - Credit: Netflix
Laura Kariuki, Emma Pasarow and Genevieve Hannelius in “Along For The Ride.” - Credit: Netflix


Samia, you were in the off-Broadway play “The Wolves” six years ago. How would you say that experience compared to this?

FINNERTY: I learned so much about acting from “The Wolves” and from the the girls in the cast. I think that’s how this movie happened for me, because Fia saw “The Wolves.” So yeah, definitely a direct correlation. I didn’t think that I would be acting again after that and this was like the most amazing surprise.

Was acting first for you, or were were you into music first?

FINNERTY: I grew up acting. I just loved acting class, because it was so cathartic and such a great way to harness feelings and creativity. And I used everything I learned in acting class in music and in writing music, especially. So I just love any opportunity to do it. But I think music just took precedence for so long.

And Samia, one of your most popular songs is called “Is There Something In The Movies?” I’m curious what this experience meant to you, and what the world of film represents for you in general.

FINNERTY: Yeah, I grew up around the entertainment industry because my parents are both in it, and I just knew a lot of people who did this for their job and I saw the ways that working in entertainment can affect someone negatively and can really rearrange people’s priorities. What’s so special about this movie is that there was real love and real care and people were really treated like human beings, and that doesn’t always happen. That’s, for me, what that song is about, seeing the repercussions of a lack of care in those environments. This felt like remedying that in a lot of ways because it was so sweet and I got to make real friends and be around such great people who wanted to be in this world to be genuinely kind to each other. So I guess it really was like a big Band-Aid for that song.

For the rest of you, what films of this genre do you remember watching when you were younger? Were you looking at any reference points for telling this sort of story?

PASAROW: That’s a good question. This wasn’t when I was growing up, this was when I was a bit older, but I think it was really cool to have “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before” come before this because while it’s a different world, it’s written by Fia and it’s similar to “Along for the Ride.” It’s a lot of really multifaceted characters who are dealing with trauma and love and awkward teen years and the discomfort of being 17.

HANNELIUS: I’m trying to think of a good teen summer romance. Do you have anything, Laura?

KARIUKI: I have one. “High School Musical.”

PASAROW: Oh my God, that’s such a good one.

HANNELIUS: That’s so good. Especially the second one where they’re at the resort. That is just summer in a movie.

KARIUKI: The romance. The friendships.

HANNELIUS: It’s got it all. Chef’s kiss.

Does “Along For The Ride” need a musical adaptation?

HANNELIUS: Emma, are you ready for that one?

PASAROW: Here’s the truth. These two women have incredible voices. I am nearly tone-deaf, so I will gladly do it, because I’m a sucker for a musical. But either someone has to dub over my singing or I’ll be silent in the background.

I’m curious, if you were making this movie for your younger self or for anyone who’s going to watch it, what do you hope that viewers who watch this movie can walk away with?

PASAROW: For me, it’s that we’re all more than one thing and we should give ourselves permission to try new things and that might lead to failing or uncomfortable conversations. But in giving yourself permission to do that, you realize that you can pick yourself back up — the metaphor of the bike is very real. Then you grow and you make new friends. Also, vulnerability is strength.

KARIUKI: I would say, allow yourself to put your walls down and to not judge a book by its cover because you will find so many more connections with other people if you just put down the guard and don’t judge people. Again, female friendship. Got to love it.

And then I have one final question for you all. As Leah asks in the film, what is your “snack profile”? Like what would be your snack and drink of choice at a gas station?

FINNERTY: So, Esther loves jerky. But I am a vegetarian. Oh, God, that’s such a good question. Maybe like a cheddar cheese sort of popcorn and any kind of VitaminWater.

HANNELIUS: Hot Cheetos with lime every day, every road trip, so good. I love a good peach iced tea.

KARIUKI: I like Sweet Chili Doritos, like the purple bag. Love those and, what are they called? I can’t remember — but it’s like a mixture of Doritos and Chex Mix. I love those. And then to drink, I like a blue raspberry slushie or Icee or a sugar-free Red Bull.

PASAROW: Okay, I have a massive sweet tooth, so mine’s easily peanut M&M’s. You got the crunch of the peanut and then chocolate, and then, with a very Auden thing, black coffee. I love coffee. It’s honestly an issue that I’m working through. I need to drink less of it, but I love coffee.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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