Yet another movie marketed with the line “From the author of The Notebook,” The Last Song is distinguished from other Nicholas Sparks adaptations because it’s the first screenplay the best-selling novelist has written himself. Starring a more mature Miley Cyrus as a daughter reluctantly spending a summer in a southern beach town with her estranged father (Greg Kinnear), the film’s focus on family takes a temporary backseat to the story of a budding romance with a local boy. Fortunately, The Last Song mercifully avoids some of the clichés of its genre and will likely provide an unforgettably touching and wonderful film experience for the target teen girl audience that is bound to line up for it in droves. Other audience members dragged along should find things to like as well so expect a strong theatrical run with Miley fans leading the way. It’s no Alice but Disney (releasing through its more adult Touchstone label) should be thrilled with the box office haul.
Clearly designed as a vehicle to take ‘tween idol Cyrus into the next phase of her career, Sparks latest saga (published just a year ago) is likely too PG homogenized to do for her what Elia Kazan’s seminal 1961 teen drama Splendor In The Grass did for Natalie Wood (a few years older than Miley then)—if that’s the idea—but it still remains a touching tale of family ties and young summer love. Cyrus plays Ronnie Miller, the estranged teenaged daughter of Steve (Kinnear), who reluctantly comes to visit him in his small beachtown home for the season. Divorced and harboring a secret that isn’t instantly revealed, Steve tries to make amends with his two kids, including younger son Jonah (Bobby Coleman), as he deals with his own past and present demons. The bond between father and daughter is strained until their mutual gift for music provides a thaw in the ice. At the same time she’s dealing with family matters Ronnie meets a strapping local boy, Will (Liam Hemsworth), who scuba dives, plays volleyball and harbors his own secrets. The budding relationship between the pair is tenuous at best but it takes on weight as the summer continues—and you can guess that things heat up.
Basically a simple story about second chances, hidden secrets and new beginnings, the screenplay by Sparks and co-writer Jeff Van Wie has been lyrically directed on gorgeous Georgia locations by debut feature director Julie Anne Robinson. Sparks actually wrote this with Cyrus in mind and only after finishing the script adapted it into book form. Clearly it is an ideal vehicle for the 16 year old star who shines in her finest role yet. Wisely, Cyrus doesn’t overdo the dramatics even in some of the film’s strongest emotional scenes, and she connects strongly with Ronnie’s rebellious nature and private pain as a child of divorce. Kinnear is terrific in a tricky role of a dad trying to make up for lost time while holding his urgent reasons close to the vest. A subplot involving the torching of a local church is a bit much though, and needlessly melodramatic. As the object of Ronnie’s summer fling Australian newcomer Hemsworth is a real find and could be a major star in the making based on his natural and appealing screen presence here. Supporting cast is fine with Kelly Preston as Kinnear’s ex also in for some brief but poignant scenes.
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Liam Hemsworth, Kelly Preston, Bobby Coleman, Nick Lashaway, Nick Searcy and Hallock Beals
Director: Julie Anne Robinson
Screenwriters: Nicholas Sparks and Jeff Van Wie
Producers: Adam Shankman and Jennifer Gibgot
Rating: PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language.
Running time: 107 min.
Release date: March 31, 2010