With barely enough time to recover from Dear John, film fans are in for a second assault on the tear ducts this month with The Last Song, another romantic drama penned by master of the weepie Nicholas Sparks. This film is fronted by Miley Cyrus, the Hannah Montana tween superstar looking to establish a career on the big screen. It's a risky move for Cyrus, ditching Hannah's blonde wig, but in Sparks she has a pair of usually crowd-pleasing hands to support her transition.
The story finds Cyrus's rebellious teen Ronnie heading out of New York with her brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) for the summer to stay with their dad (Greg Kinnear) at a small beach town. Ronnie was once a piano prodigy, learning under her father, but the pair grew apart after he divorced her mother (Kelly Preston). While Jonah welcomes the change in scenery (he works on making a stained-glass window with his pop), Ronnie is still resentful towards him. A romance with local boy Will (Liam Hemsworth) helps her make music again, while her dad's deteriorating health adds a thick layer of melodrama to proceedings.
The Last Song is an incredibly binary film (even by Sparks's standards), one moment Ronnie is angry with the world, the next she loves everyone. Kinnear's immense likeability in the father role makes her stroppiness all the more baffling, but their journey together is the one that resonates the most. The up-and-down of the bland romance with Will is the biggest stumbling block for the movie, lacking that "can't live without you" romantic intensity (ironic, as Hemsworth is Cyrus's real-life beau) or maturity (sex is never hinted at). At one point the pair take a truck ride and sing along to 'She Will Be Loved' - when Will says to Ronnie, "You can really sing", it's a hideously contrived moment and one that shatters the fourth wall to highlight that Miley still has albums out there for you to buy! Musically it's also madly schizophrenic, as M83's glorious 'Graveyard Girl' and Feist's 'I Feel It All' sit alongside the aforementioned Maroon 5 and the snoozy OneRepublic.
Cyrus herself is as bubbly and effervescent as expected. The role gives her the chance to flex some dramatic muscles, but the performance isn't quite powerful enough to ever give the impression that she's playing someone other than herself. Shaking off the baggage of celebrity and her Miley persona is perhaps the most difficult thing she faces in her post-Montana choices. The Last Song is a movie that quite deliberately slots together its jigsaw pieces to take its audience on an expected and overly-sentimental ride. It's a rickety first effort and evidence that Miley perhaps needs to step further outside of her comfort zone to make it as a 'serious actress'.
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