Miley Cyrus was searching for a dramatic role to shed her Hannah Montana image. Nicholas Sparks was pondering how to include teen characters in his latest romantic novel. A phone call from producer Jennifer Gigbot united the two projects, and The Last Song was soon in production.
In the opening scenes of the film, we are introduced to 17 year-old Ronnie Miller (Cyrus), whose appearance is a bit of a shock. She is dressed in dark clothing and make-up, sporting a nose piercing and plenty of attitude. She is clearly outraged that her mother (Kelly Preston) has forced her to leave the Manhattan social scene to spend the summer with her estranged father, Steve (Greg Kinnear). A bitter divorce has driven a wedge between them to the extent that talented Ronnie refuses to play the piano to spite her dad, who had once been her teacher.
We gradually realize that Ronnie’s surly persona is a defense mechanism as her actions reveal her true character. She is kind to her younger brother, Jonah (Bobby Coleman). She resists peer pressure to drink alcohol and rebuffs the advances of another girl’s boyfriend. She gives money to a girl who is desperate and homeless.
Steve sees through his daughter’s act as well. Although he literally sets boundaries for her in one amusing scene, he gives Ronnie time and space to work through her resentment toward him. He listens quietly as she confides her difficulty in meeting new friends and her growing feelings for clean-cut local boy, Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth). Steve’s kindness and faith in Ronnie help her to open up and learn to love him again as she slowly sheds her rebellious attitude and appearance. Their shared passion for music and the piano strengthens this bond and leads to the film’s heartbreaking climax.
“The Last Song” is sentimental without resorting to melodrama. Humorous scenes and surprising plot twists prevent a lapse into clichés and predictability. The overall themes are of hope, forgiveness and the importance of family bonds. Viewers will have to look closely for the subtle Christian themes in the movie, which are much more overt in Nicholas Sparks’ novel. (See my interview with Sparks at http://catholicexchange.com/2010/03/19/128333/.)
The characters are well-cast. Greg Kinnear portrays Steve with both sensitivity and strength, and Miley Cyrus is a good fit for the role of Ronnie. However, young Bobby Coleman steals every scene he’s in, playing Ronnie’s brother Jonah with the right mix of innocence and little-boy bravado.
Parents should use discretion. Miley Cyrus’ role will no doubt have many of her younger fans begging to see The Last Song, but this is not a Hannah Montana movie, despite its PG rating. There are mature themes and a few scenes that may not be suitable for younger viewers: Ronnie’s wardrobe in several scenes is a bit immodest, and she and Will share a passionate kiss that I didn’t find suitable for a PG movie. A group of teens drink alcohol by a fire at night, and a somewhat scary male teen cuddles up to Ronnie, even though he is the boyfriend of a girl she has just befriended. The same young man later appears drunk at a wedding and makes a scene, using the words “hell” and “damn”. He and Will fight aggressively, throwing punches. A character dies, but the scene is portrayed sensitively and tastefully. In general, this film may be more suitable for teens and older tweens.
I asked my daughter, a mature fifth grader, to accompany me to the screening to get her perspective on The Last Song. She laughed at times and generally liked the film, but remarked that it was a bit sad and probably more suitable for older kids. However, we both enjoyed the opportunity to discuss some of the issues brought up in the movie that she would be facing in middle and high school.
Overall, I thought The Last Song was both entertaining and thought-provoking. Although probably not destined to be a classic, it’s definitely a step above the average “popcorn flick”.
The Last Song debuts in theaters today. The movie is rated PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language.