It’s easy to be cynical about the movies adapted from Nicholas Sparks’ stories. Earlier this year there was “Dear John” (which I reviewed here), a sentimental, adolescent, old-fashioned romance. And so is “The Last Song,” but this is a stronger film than its predecessor that manages to overcome its flaws thanks to an idealistic story about young love.
A couple of young siblings are sent to their estranged father’s house for the summer. Singer Miley Cyrus and Bobby Soleman play the brother and sister, Ronnie and Jonah Miller, who are both unhappy to find themselves forced to spend time with their old man, Steve Miller (played by Oscar-nominee Greg Kinnear). While sulking and adrift in teen angst, Ronnie (Cyrus) meets a local boy and starts to fall in love with him. The boy, Will Blakelee, is played by Liam Hemsworth, and he charms his way into dating the new girl in town.
The story focuses on Ronnie’s budding relationship with Will and her damaged relationship with her father. The former relationship quickly develops even though Ronnie’s first impression of Will is negative, to say the least. The romance is an innocent and sentimental one depicting Will as a rich young lad whose parents are predictably not impressed by Will’s new and less-privileged girlfriend. The love story is sometimes dorky and goofy but the characters are likable and the couple does have chemistry.
Ronnie’s other major relationship issue is with her father, who separated from the family years before but sent his children letters after. When he sees his daughter, she’s openly hostile to him but he still tries to be a father figure and encourages her to take up the piano again — an interest of hers before he left. Rumor has it that Ronnie’s father also started the local Church fire that burnt it down, although he does not remember if he actually did it or not because of medication he was on at the time.
This is Miley Cyrus’ first big non-Hannah Montana movie role and she does an okay job with it. She has potential to grow as an actress and her chemistry with Hemsworth is noticeable. But she sometimes goes overboard. With time, I think she will grow.
This movie reminded me of “Life As a House,” which is about a middle-aged parent reaching out to his estranged son during a summer they spend together. That was a better movie than “Song” but “Song” does have some strong qualities and manages to overcome its predictable plot twists and cliches with likable characters and solid secondary story-lines (including one involving baby turtles).
Unlike “Dear John,” “The Last Song” does not have major problems in its third act that distracts from the story. However, like “Dear John,” it is a likable, old-fashioned teen romance that fans of romantic dramas and solid stories should enjoy.