Sand dunes at sunset, summer lovin’ (had me a blast!), a third-act medical crisis and a clutch of letters designed to be read aloud in voice-over: Another month, another adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks romance.
This month’s is called The Last Song, starring Miley Cyrus as a surly, snappish one-time piano prodigy who has given up the keyboard after her parents’ divorce. She and her brother spend an eventful coastal Georgia summer with their father, played by Greg Kinnear. Those familiar with Sparks’ The Notebook (aka “the good one”), Nights in Rodanthe and this year’s Dear John will find the contours of The Last Song either comforting or shopworn. It depends on your tolerance for wordless, songdrenched transitional scenes in which lovers throw each other into the surf while the soundtrack does the rest.
Cyrus’ character, Ronnie, meets her noble hunk (Liam Hemsworth) in almost precisely the same way Amanda Seyfried met Channing Tatum in Dear John: on the beach, sunny day, love at first sight, bickering at second, love at third aaaaaand safe at home! He’s rich, she’s not; Kinnear’s character, we’re told, fell asleep at the chapel piano one night and may have caused a painful fire, so he’s living with guilt and secrets and struggling to re-engage with Ronnie and get her back to the piano and take that full ride at Juilliard. A hardened showbiz veteran at 17, Cyrus plays an angry, heartbroken girl in a way that, sad to say, shows off her Hannah Montana-drilled tricks and tics and air of entitlement more than her dramatic range.
Kinnear’s a different story: Reliably honest and affecting, he fights off the waves of corn in much the same way that Tibetan monk defied the tsunami in 2012. Debut feature director Julie Anne Robinson can do only so much with a script (by Sparks and Jeff Van Wie) addicted to YAMS, or Yet Another Montage Syndrome. Party dress shopping, playful mud fight, volleyball game, turtle hatch (actually, that scene’s nice) — it beats storytelling, I suppose.
The Last Song is primarily for teenagers looking for something disposable to cry about for a couple of hours, though I did find it a tad easier to take than Dear John, which was slicker but more galling in its heartstring-yanking. Here, Kinnear and the turtles offer some compensation.
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