In Theaters: The Last Song
"I did not come here for some stupid summer romance," Miley Cyrus croaks at the midway point of The Last Song, "with some stupid local boy who's done this a thousand times before." Sister, I've got at least three kinds of bad news for you. In the second Nicholas Sparks adaptation in as many months (Dear John has the sole distinction of knocking Avatar from its first-place perch), another young lady finds herself on Georgia's powdery beaches for the summer, balancing a shirtless suitor with hackneyed class conflicts and a passage to adulthood via untimely death. Luckily both the audiences for Sparks's corn pone weepers and Cyrus's Liquid Drano rasp don't share her character's distaste for cliché: whether they can overlook The Last Song's sucking charm and chemistry voids is another story.
Cyrus plays Ronnie, a gothy mean girl annexed to her father's southern beach house -- poor thing -- with her little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) for the summer. Still freshly pumped about a divorce that seems to have taken place years ago, Ronnie has given up playing the piano -- a passion she shared with her father, played by Greg Kinnear, and which got her admitted to Julliard sight unseen -- and lays down a napalm-like berth of bitchery wherever she treads. Any of the novelty in seeing Disney's crowned princess tricked out in combat boots and blue nail polish is negated by the absolute joylessness and lack of charisma Cyrus brings to the role. Truly unpleasant to watch and flatly bizarre to behold -- Cyrus's peculiar configuration of features and buttoned-on eyes are better suited to Disney swag -- her forced scowls and swagger are only effectively repelled by the wonderful Kinnear, a known antidote to affectation. The rest simply wilt beside her.
Perhaps hoping to distract from the inadequate performance at its center, director Julie Anne Robinson compounds the problem by loading the film up with subplots and superfluous characters that Cyrus cannot negotiate, including a mysterious church fire that may have been Kinnear's fault, a vulnerable nest of sea turtle eggs, a new friend with a sketchy boyfriend, and that Coppertoned suitor named Will, who comes complete with a couple tragedies of his own, including a dead brother and a half-embalmed, rich-bitch mother.
Played by Liam Hemsworth, Will is recognizable as the classic hometown cutie and lays some pretty sweet sparkle on the belligerent Ronnie, but no amount of montage-powered frolic can solidify these two as a convincing couple. The supposed conflict that emerges between them (Will has a reputation as a player; his wealthy family look down on Ronnie) serves mostly to highlight the contrivance of their bond and Cyrus's impatience with the whole process of becoming a movie star. Doesn't she just have to show up? And maybe bark the name of the character she's talking to once a sentence?
Unable to work up a decent head of schmaltz between the central couple, in the third act Sparks and co. (he co-wrote the script with Jeff Van Wie) turn their ruthless eyes to the only character we've managed to care about. It's an almost breathtakingly calculated move, a narrative Hail Mary that sends a hanky flying straight for your face. It's also pretty smooth stuff for such a lurching, teen-queen vehicle; they may have held me down and wrenched them out of me, but those tears fell like velvet.