Mark Reviews Movies

THE LAST SONG

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Julie Anne Robinson

Cast: Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Liam Hemsworth, Bobby Coleman, Hallock Beals, Kelly Preston, Carly Chaikin, Nick Lashaway

MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 3/31/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 30, 2010

Like a band's greatest hits album, The Last Song touches upon just about every character and plot point Nicholas Sparks in his limited imagination has ever used in his storytelling. That doesn't go far enough, though. If the band re-recorded only a minute of their original songs for the tracks on the album, then the metaphor would come closer to the effect of this movie.

It's all here: passionate young love, kids from opposing sides of the class divide, disapproving parents, divorced parents, dead relative, clichéd secrets hidden and revealed at the drop of a hat, metaphors spelt out, and terminal illness (not the real kind but the type in which someone dies without pain but with lots of memorable moments and advice to confer upon those around the dying individual).

Except for the last one, which—after seeing the rest of those—everyone knows has to be coming eventually, nothing comes of these things. They come and go across the screen without a second thought for conflict, character development, or even just another mention somewhere down the line. Why spend so much time establishing that the heroine stole something back in New York City only to use it as backstory for another character to manipulate but then have the entire incident forgotten and forgiven in the next scene?

The shoplifter is Ronnie (Miley Cyrus, in a performance full of hair-brushing, pouting, and tiny grins), short for Veronica, a big city girl in a small, coastal town who doesn't fit in. Sparks and co-screenwriter Jeff Van Wie establish this with her sweatshirt/long-pants/boots combo while walking the beach as the townies in their swimsuits gawk at her with disapproval and displeasure.

The exception is Will (Liam Hemsworth), a volleyball-playing, car-fixing, aquarium-volunteering playboy who learns that Ronnie is his one, true love during their second date. They love each other in sea-turtle-nest-protecting, initials-in-tree-carving, all-others-forsaking innocence. It's a life-changing, once-in-a-lifetime, for-life, etc. kind of love.

Ronnie is at the small, scenic town with her brother (Bobby Coleman as the kind of annoying, interfering sibling screenwriters believe to be "cute") to spend the summer with her estranged father (Greg Kinnear, rising above the material in key moments), who left the family years ago to live alone in a house on the beach in a small, panoramic town. Ronnie is openly antagonistic towards dad, but he just wants to be her father for this season. "What's with the nice-guy act," and "Did you start taking nice-guy classes," are her retorts, until that life-affirming, etc. love comes around. Then, she is as friendly as can be.

It's not all sea turtles and swims in the aquarium tank, though, because this small, beach town has other residents who simply don't understand that two kids in love are the be-all and end-all of existence in a small, running-out-of-adjectives-for-idyllic town.

Will's parents don't like Ronnie, because she's a city girl who doesn't understand their rich, South-East Coast, plantation-house-dwelling ways. If there were tournaments for overblown and frequent judgmental looks, his mom (Kate Vernon) would have a good shot at nationals. It's not all perfect, Will reassures Ronnie (as though she needs the clarification). After all, his brother died. The point of that revelation, of course, is that his brother died—nothing less, and certainly nothing more.

Then there are Blaze (Carly Chaikin) and her abusive boyfriend (Nick Lashaway), who are on the scene for two reasons: 1.) To make the joke that Blaze's actual name is Galadriel, and 2.) to provide more potential conflict that never comes to a head. Blaze is the one who frames Ronnie for shoplifting, and later, the pair causes a scene at Will's sister's wedding. This incident really turns Will's mom against Ronnie, a development that is yet again dismissed immediately.

Each new piece of false-starting conflict starts to become unintentionally funny, as Ronnie's issues occasionally turn her against Will for no apparent reason (Once again, each time that happens, it's forgiven and forgotten right away). There's also a mysterious church fire, which Ronnie's dad believes he caused but Will knows the truth. After all the rest, this dilemma finally causes some genuine conflict, although the buildup to it is painfully transparent (One character exists simply to be the stumbling block to Will's revelation of the truth, and his turnaround is unbelievably fast (Will: "We have to tell the truth;" friend: "Ok.").

On and on this goes, and piling of problem after problem with nothing becoming of them turns so ridiculous that the concept of terminal illness being used is inescapable. For all the inherent falseness of movie illness on hand in the final act of The Last Song (a metaphor about light through a window is just enough to rip one's hair out, even worse than the point by point deconstruction of the sea turtle symbolism), at least something happens for once.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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