The Last Song
What It Is
Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) is at that rebellious age. At the start of The Last Song, she resents both her parents for divorcing, her mom for remarrying, and her dad for leaving, or being kicked out or however her childhood went. She wears black boots and torn black pantyhose, and she slouches like she’s miserable in her own body. She’s recently been accused of shoplifting in New York City. And she’s mad that her mother (Kelly Preston) is sending her and her little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) off to live with their father, Steve (Greg Kinnear), for the summer.
The fact that Steve lives on a lovely Georgian beach where long, tall, tanned kids hang out only makes Ronnie more miserable. When she runs into the especially tall and tanned Will (Liam Hemsworth), she does her best to put him off, but he’s persistent and smitten. And besides, he and she are the two prettiest people in a movie written by Nicholas Sparks, which means they must become a couple.
But even if this conclusion is foregone—just like those in previous movies based on Sparks’ novels, including Dear John, released just two months ago—this one spends at least an hour complicating their story with assorted life lessons. First, they come from different classes (her dad’s a musician and artist, his parents are filthy rich and snooty, Old Southern-style). Second, they’re both keeping secrets from each other, hers concerning her past life as a piano prodigy, his concerning knowledge of a local crime). And third, they’ve got to deal with the major Plot Turn that strikes every Nicholas Sparks movie, that is, a life-changing death.
Why It’s Fun
The Last Song gives everyone a chance to see Miley Cyrus not being Hannah Montana. It’s a role that she’s long played and probably appreciated and now plainly wants to leave behind. (Ronnie does sing for a minute, along with the car radio, inspiring Will to exclaim, “You can really sing!” and thus granting viewers a little in-joke at his expense.) And the movie does grapple with this desire—to move on, take on a new identity, and perhaps come out from under your dad’s shadow—all themes that echo issues Cyrus has had to face, growing up so publicly.
Cyrus’ appeal aside, the movie offers as well pleasant seashores, close-ups of baby turtles hatching from their eggs, romantic montage sequences, and a typically admirable performance by Kinnear. For the most part, however, the story is predictable and the pacing erratic.
One plot strand that appears and disappears is Ronnie’s friendship with a local girl, Blaze (Carly Chaikin), who is not only more miserable (even blacker outfits, more mascara) than her new buddy, but also homeless, which gives Ronnie a chance to be grateful for her own advantages. She also matures enough over the summer to look after Jonah, rather than only using his welfare as another argument against the parents she’s so mad at.
Following formula, The Last Song provides a best friend for Will (so he can worry about what to do) and a way for Ronnie to return to her love of music. (The downside for this is that Cyrus has to pretend to know how to play the piano, and when Ronnie does play, the scene cuts between Cyrus’ face and someone else’s hands, a clumsy bit of business that’s more distracting than convincing.)
Who’s Going To Love It
Miley Cyrus fans will surely show up. She is, however, a young actor, still learning her craft, and so her performance is uneven. While she’s appropriately awkward as this initially unhappy teenager, she’s more convincing—and less irritating—when Ronnie lightens up.
The movie also includes a self-conscious, sorta clever reference to all that Miley-watching that goes on in the media, when both Jonah and Steve pick up binoculars to watch her flirt with Will. Their first kiss is pictured in grand fashion, with circling camera and big music, at once utterly corny and utterly sweet. The couple’s subsequent romance takes place in very pretty locations—the beach, of course, as well as diving in a tank at the aquarium where Will works, a wedding (which actually leads to conflict, but not until after Ronnie looks glorious in her vintage lavender party dress), and the requisite rainstorm.
What To Be Aware Of
The herky-jerky plot aside, the film includes a few scenes that might bear talking about. Steve is going through an especially difficult time, being blamed in town for a crime he doesn’t remember committing. Everyone has to contend with a terrible illness, which in another movie would involve long months or weeks of pain, but is here reduced to a few brief scenes, sad but not gruesome or very realistic.
Girls on the beach—especially the arrogant blond girls who pick on Ronnie and Blaze—wear bikinis and sashay a bit. In response to one encounter with just such a girl, Ronnie calls her a “bitch.”
3 out of 10
The Last Song
Director: Julie Anne Robinson
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston
US Premiere: March 31, 2010