Julie Anne Robinson directs her first feature film in The Last Song, following a successful career in theatre and television. The second movie to be adapted from a Nicholas Sparks book this year, I will prove unable to avoid comparing the two films. Expect to be hearing a lot more from Sparks in years to come as more of his novels will be adapted for the big screen. This picture is a coming-of-age tale; the story focuses on one troubled teen’s summer as she temporarily moves in with her estranged father. Expect to see heartbreak, arguing, tears and tantrums; all set within a believable small town without a killer robot or talking animal in sight. Having established that this is a DRAMA, well aware that a certain percentage of film fans will already have tuned out and decided to avoid the picture (or heroically/moronically go and see it anyway despite deciding they will not enjoy it), lets continue with the review.
The story is centred on Veronica “Ronnie” Miller (Miley Cyrus); a rebellious teen (read emo) who has been shipped off to her father’s – Simon Miller (Greg Kinnear) – for the summer, along with younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman). Ronnie has gotten into trouble at her mother’s home in New York having been caught shoplifting – probably for the attention. She has stopped playing the piano, even though she is a gifted pianist; and she is refusing to go to college, even though a respected music school has offered her a place. She resents her dad for leaving them and setting up residence miles from anyone – the state of Georgia (no offence to Georgians). However Jonah is irrepressibly excited about spending time with his daddy. Ronnie instead wanders about town getting into adventures and solving the mystery of the Savannah church. However this isn’t a Scooby-Doo film of course, it’s a drama.
Now here is something I have to address in this film: Miley Cyrus is in it. In case you don’t know who that is, ‘Smiley Virus’ is a popstar/singer/song-writer/actress and the teenage sensation behind Hannah Montana. She has a lot of fans and apparently a lot of critics. Understand that by ‘critics’ I mean teenage boys who like comic books and naked boobies. My advice to anybody who finds themselves hating a talented seventeen year old girl who has starred in a lot of Disney movies is to stop watching the Disney channel immediately and do something with your life you absolute loser. Now on the subject of Cyrus she does a fairly decent portrayal of a moody teenager. Some critics have said that she is unconvincing in this role, but as one of the characters tells Ronnie “the ice cube act isn’t working”. Moody teenage girls are generally unconvincing as sarcastic ice queens. Her character is putting on an act; it’s a double bluff if you will. I suppose a better actress would have improved the film, but this wasn’t a problem here.
Continuing with the critiques I would say that Sparks’ writing is at times unconvincing and plot driven, riddled with clichés and emotionally manipulative. But unlike Dear John, here this is much less of a problem, and doesn’t drag the movie down too much. Other criticism has come down harshly upon Bobby Coleman, which is a nonsense because the little guy is fantastic in all of his scenes.
So far I have been defending the film from some rather vicious criticism and have hesitated to point out its strengths. Well Greg Kinnear has been universally praised for his performance here – and rightly so. The direction is solid, and allows each character time to develop their own story in a well portioned amount of time, so that even if you grow tired of one character you may well be interested in the story arc of another. Everything that was wrong with Dear John is absent from this movie – sadly this means its leading lights Richard Jenkins and the gorgeous Amanda Seyfried are also absent. Overall though, The Last Song is a solid effort and has done well to earn itself its assigned score.