Making the Grades
Miley Cyrus fans will likely weep their way through this teen tearjerker. Other audience members, however, may be less than smitten with the The Last Song.
Despite the number of Nicholas Sparks’ novels that have been tailored for the big screen, this is the first time the author has penned the screenplay as well. Unfortunately too many of the scenes in this adaptation suffer from awkward or unbelievable dialogue and others, which appear to have some potential, are shoved on the screen and then yanked off before the characters or circumstances have time to develop. It takes some consummate acting skills to give life to these clumsy lines and regrettably Miley Cyrus is not a consummate actress—at least not yet.
Learning her trade on the preteen sitcom Hannah Montana required nothing more than a limited number of exaggerated emotions, namely sad, happy, angry. While this works for the show’s target audience, it never allowed Miley to practice portraying more subtle or complex feeling. Just like Hannah, her character Ronnie in The Last Song is either cheerful, cheerless or cheesed off, and it is usually the latter. Thankfully, Miley’s younger costar, Bobby Coleman, puts in several emotionally touching performances that help redeem the script.
In the story, Ronnie is a defiant, sulking teen who wears a scowl that would scare off a pit bull. Forced in the back seat of her mother’s (Kelly Preston) SUV, she and her little brother Jonah (played by Coleman) are hauled off to spend the summer with their estranged father (Greg Kinnear) in a Georgia beach town. While I can think of worse places to be dumped, Ronnie is still seething over her parents’ divorce and appears to want some kind of blood sacrifice to atone for their decision to separate. Even though she has exceptional talent and years of musical training, she also punishes her mom and dad by refusing to sit down at the piano or accept an invitation to Julliard.
After arriving on Tybee Island, Ronnie has an accidental run-in with one of the local boys. While she is pushing through the throng at a shoreline carnival, Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth) unintentionally bowls her over during a beach volleyball game. Maintaining the same "I’ll forgive when I am ready" attitude that she uses with her parents, Ronnie refuses to graciously accept his apology. Undeterred by her rudeness, Will continues to try and engage the glowering girl every time he sees her in the small town. Eventually he wears her down with a long and lingering kiss on the beach. But the rest of the film is spent watching Ronnie boomerang between professions of love and loathing for the young man. Her ever-changing attitudes make it difficult to feel any real affection for the troubled teen.
On the other hand, Ronnie makes a few good decisions that most parents will appreciate while watching this film with their preteens. Given a chance to consume alcohol at a late night make out session on the beach, Ronnie rejects both alcohol and some advances from an inebriated partygoer. As well she refuses to be involved in stealing from a street vendor. Later she helps a girl in an abusive relationship find the courage to get out. Audiences will also see more than one lip lock between Ronnie and Will, yet there isn’t even a hint of more intimate relations. And Ronnie finally exhibits some maturity when a family tragedy befalls them. Ultimately she even takes her eyes off her own problems long enough to help someone else.
In a similar fashion, viewers will have to look past this film’s flaws and lock on those few redeeming qualities in order to appreciate this story. Otherwise this summer romance barely earns a passing grade even for Hannah Montana fans who are ready to watch their favorite sitcom star grow up.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Last Song.
Ronnie receives an invitation to attend Julliard despite her failing school grades. How realistic is that? What kind of commitment do students have to exhibit to be accepted into a prestigious school such as this?
What impact does the divorce of Ronnie’s parents have on her and her brother? Why does her outlook change by the end of the film? What does she do to atone for her attitude?