The Last Song (Touchstone)
Killing Me Softly
It’s difficult to offer an honest critique for a film like The Last Song, which qualifies as a “film” only in the loosest of terms. Yes, it has a running time. Yes, it plays on a movie screen. Yes, it’s sandwiched between opening and closing credits.
Yes, it’s akin to the slimy substance that forms over your teeth when you sleep with your mouth open.
But as a “film” in any other sense, The Last Song fails from the most fundamental level. The narrative is constructed without consistency or logic. Characters behave irrationally, cycling through moods and personalities as often as clichés and plot contrivances.
Disney-branded superstar Miley Cyrus plays Ronnie Miller, an irascible, angsty teen staying with her father (Greg Kinnear) for the summer at his seaside home. Ronnie is a vessel of unfulfilled potential, and she blames her father for breaking up their family. Tension abounds.
But the stories and interactions of these characters don’t happen during the film as much as the film happens to them. The Last Song chugs forward at a wheezy pace, dragging its characters along as it ticks the boxes next to every tween romantic weeper device possible.
The film gives no further reason to take the ride, unless of course you enjoy being subjected to pure emotional manipulation. Or sustained moments of cringe-inducing awkwardness. Or painful bouts of boredom. Or newly hatching baby turtles.
What’s this? Newly hatching baby turtles? Now who doesn’t love newly hatching baby turtles! An adorable ruse? Yes. An inconsequential and equally manipulative distraction? Also yes.
But let’s get real. This excursion is really about one thing and one thing only: Miley Cyrus making her post-Hannah Montana feature film debut. With this in mind, the young starlet performs regrettably.
The spunky Ms. Cyrus cannot convincingly sell Ronnie’s broody tendencies and rough edge. She contorts her face, pouting like she just took a giant swig of spoiled milk. Despite her best attempts, Kristen Stewart she is not.
I would say she is miscast, but this is her movie— her star-making vehicle. If anything, the film was miscast for her.
Cyrus doesn’t seem to possess the skill or restraint to successfully convey palatable feeling: her facial expressions illegible, her inflections unbefitting. She goes big with every emotion, and 99% of the time, her efforts clash with the intentions of her character.
To the young actress’ credit, the two very instances she does it properly, she impressively commands like a fully-committed, seasoned performer. A fluke? Or could this portend a real talent: a diamond in the ruffles?
What’s more, she is clearly more capable and comfortable during the film’s rare moments of humor. She doesn’t get the chance to engage in the slapstick shenanigans of her Disney show, but it’s evident that she has a knack for the punchline. Perhaps Ms. Cyrus should, for the time being at least, stick to comedy.
But comedy is the last thing on The Last Song‘s agenda, even as it accidentally finds its way into the film. Ronnie spends a good deal of time putting up with the flirtations of a hunky admirer named Will (played by Miley’s alleged real-life publicity grab— I mean, boyfriend Liam Hemsworth)— that is before she inevitably submits to his advances and requites his affection.
Will pursues Ronnie with a confounding tenacity. Apparently, she’s a special girl, and I might agree— depending on your definition of “special.” Indeed, at one point Ronnie quite unintentionally posits herself in direct comparison to a raving, ravenous raccoon. Cyrus almost does a better raccoon than the critter itself.
Still, Will doesn’t seem to mind. If this fuzzy math in human relations doesn’t make you squirm, the physical difference between the two lovers surely will. Miley Cyrus looks about 16 tops, while Hemsworth could easily be in his third year of grad school (a concept less dubious than you might think, as both Will and Ronnie possess improbable academic talents).
When they kiss, Will scoops Ronnie up off the ground and cradles her like a child. Her hair briefly conceals her face, and, for a moment (as in, if the frame were to freeze suddenly) it almost looks like a young father is kissing his daughter goodbye before dropping her off at preschool.
The dynamics between Ronnie and her father are hardly better. Resentment simmers plenty, but there is no depth or natural progression to their evolving relationship outside of supporting the calculations of the movie.
As per every Nicholas Sparks adaptation, the film’s final act douses the narrative in soppy, unavoidable grief. We watch the characters react for the sake of sentimentality, but none of it is genuine. I recall that someone was dying during this stretch, but that someone could have easily just been me.
Greg Kinnear deserves some credit for managing to keep it together while playing off of Miley’s often perplexing demeanor. Kelly Preston, meanwhile, is a sunny presence with a pretty face as Ronnie’s mother.
It is the young Bobby Coleman as Ronnie’s brother Jonah, however, who walks away with top performance honors. In almost any other setting, his turn would be a hammy overstatement. Here, he suddenly and unexpectedly becomes the emotional hero of the film when he lashes out at anyone who will listen, essentially berating his compatriots for behaving so dementedly.
Save for the baby turtles, I support his sentiments entirely.
Way to go, little buddy. Way to go.
Directed by Julie Anne Robinson. Written by Nicholas Sparks & Jeff Van Wie, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks.
Rated PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language.
Runtime is 1 hour, 47 minutes.