Miley Cyrus, trying so hard, but fighting against vapid material and pedestrian direction, plays Ronnie Miller, a girl so unhappy with everything and everyone since her parents divorced that she’s given up playing piano and has, like in that old Taj Mahal blues song, put her face in a permanent frown.
Miley Cyrus sure has got some career going. The country singer-sitcom star-pole dancer has already had major roles in two films – “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and “Bolt” – and now she’s got her name above the title in “The Last Song.” But, and the question must be asked, does it belong there? Of course it does. She’s Miley Cyrus, superstar, and darn it, she’s earned that top billing! So for almost two hours, we get plentiful helpings of Miley laughing and crying and pouting and kissing and swimming with the fishes (no, she isn’t rubbed out by the mob; she actually swims with the fishes) and singing (OK, technically, she’s only singing along to Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” when it plays on a radio).
Miley, trying so hard, but fighting against vapid material and pedestrian direction, plays Ronnie Miller, a girl so unhappy with everything and everyone since her parents divorced that she’s given up playing piano and has, like in that old Taj Mahal blues song, put her face in a permanent frown.
Ronnie’s even less pleased about her mom’s decision to ship her and her annoyingly high-spirited little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) off to stay with dad in a hopping little beach town for the summer. Dad (Greg Kinnear, who gives the film’s only strong performance) is a struggling songwriter and stained glass artist, as well as being a downright nice guy who just doesn’t deserve his daughter’s surliness.
But even though this initially appears to be a story about a difficult father-daughter relation ship, the shift changes quite quickly – as this film’s focus indiscriminately does so often for its entire running time – to one about Ronnie and her on-off-on- off romance with hunky local boy Will Blakelee (her real-life beau Liam Hemsworth). For the record, that on-off business can also refer to Will’s personal relationship with his shirt.
Because the film is supposed to attract an audience of young teens who just want to stare at young attractive actors, we’ve also got some good-looking troublemakers in Blaze (Carly Chaikin) and Marcus (Nick Lashaway) hanging out at the beach, mostly to make sure everyone watching knows that Ronnie and Will are the good guys.
But is Ronnie actually a nice person? Well, she gets along with little Jonah. But she sure is nasty to pretty much everyone else. But wait! Maybe Will really does like her for herself rather than for love of baby sea turtles (sorry, no time to get into that absurd side story right now). Suddenly she’s all smiley Miley! Oh, no, check that. It seems that Will had a girlfriend or two or five before her. She’s back in her funk. Oops! Hold on, she’s happy again.
Unfortunately, the character of Ronnie is not alone as a victim of this type of flip-flop storytelling. But we’re dealing with a tale from the pen of Nicholas Sparks, whose saccharine-laced novels “The Note book,” “Nights in Rodanthe” and “Dear John” have all been turned into big screen weepies (confession: I kind of liked “The Notebook”). Sparks also wrote “The Last Song,” and this time collaborated on the screenplay. He and his fellow filmmakers seem to be of the school that suggests: Why bother with exposition when characters can just suddenly change their minds about things and the movie can get on with its story? That behavior occurs here as often as the script gives us exchanges as pithy as this:
Ronnie to Will: “I did not come here for some stupid summer romance.”
Will to Ronnie: “You’re not like the other girls.”
It turns out to be a tale filled with people harboring all sorts of secrets. Things like who’s covering up the existence of musical talent or who’s hiding the act that there’s big money in the family or – watch out, it starts to get darker – who really burned down the church or – and here’s hoping you brought a box of tissues – who’s got the disease of the week? But you’ve already been warned about this with two words: “Nicholas Sparks,” king of the shamelessly mawkish. He may mix in limp messages about selfless acts being better than selfish ones, but he’s also not one to let any cliché go unturned. It would be great to report that Miley saves this movie, but she comes across as bland and second-rate as the rest of it.
The Patriot Ledger
THE LAST SONG (Rated R for some violence, sensuality and language) Written by Nicholas Sparks and Jeff Van Wie; directed by Julie Anne Robinson With Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Liam Hemsworth Grade: 1 star