“The Last Song” has all the trademarks of a Nicholas Sparks romance. There’s a love story between rich and poor, disease, divorce, unopened letters and a character who’s just “trying to feel something again.” And it has Miley Cyrus sans her blonde Hannah Montana wig. This time out she’s an angry musical prodigy spending a summer vacation with her father, a man she barely knows.
Cyrus is Ronnie Miller, a troubled teen—“Her grades are in the toilet and she doesn’t have a friend without a pierced something,” says her mother—sent to stay with her estranged father for the summer in a small Southern beach town. She’s angry at her dad, and despite being a gifted pianist and a earning a scholarship to Julliard, she hasn’t played the piano for ages. She mopes around the small town until she meets Will, a chiseled volleyball player who helps her rescue a nest of sea turtle eggs. (I’m not kidding.) Through wildlife and mud fights they form an on-again-off-again relationship despite their differences. Enter into the mix a terminal illness, a burned church and a jealous ex and you have a story worthy of the Nicholas Sparks Story Generator™.
“The Last Song” features Miley Cyrus in the kind of role Kristen Stewart excels in. The brooding, moody teenager act that Stewart has down pat doesn’t come as easily to Cyrus who pitches her performance somewhere between an episode of “Hannah Montana” and a TV disease-of-the-week movie. Given the pre-hype for the film I assumed this would be her adult debut, but given the tone of her performance the transition from child star to grown-up actress continues at a glacial pace. She has several emotional scenes here, and sheds a tear or two, but mostly her performance relies on tricks learned on the Disney stage—eye rolling, running her hands through her hair and flashing her toothy smile. She has a movie star’s charisma and warmth, but not the acting chops.
Greg Kinnear is there for support, but even he looks mildly bewildered at the Sparkisms in the script. It’s a mixed bag of every romance cliché known to man, except, the Fabulous Gay Confidant™. In his / her place is the wise little brother played by Bobby Coleman.
But, having said all that, a movie like “The Last Song” isn’t about the plot or the acting or the clichés. It’s like an Elvis movie. It’s about the phenomenon that is Miley. Disney is very carefully easing her from TV star to movie star, and if the projects don’t exactly radiate an adult sensibility, who cares? They are counting on the long term success. There is plenty of time for her to mature along with her fans, who, I’m sure, Disney hopes are in the Miley game for the long term.