The Last Song (2010): United States – directed by Julie Anne Robinson
Rated PG by the MPAA – contains kissing, some mature themes
Is there something to be said for films that don’t mind recycling formulaic plots and cliched devices, if the film is done well enough? What if it’s not particularly well crafted? Perhaps it lands in the worst possible category of film, a generic film not bad enough to be enjoyable and not good enough to appreciate. These are the most disappointing films; they inspire neither loathing nor love, and end up being mere piles of “meh.”
The Last Song’s story is indeed formulaic, but what more could you expect from Nicholas Sparks? The star of the film is Miley Cyrus, who is perhaps the sole reason the film exists. She plays Ronnie Miller, and at the beginning of the film she and her brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are dropped off at their father’s house on the beach. Their parents are divorced, and the split was devastating to the children, particularly Ronnie.
Their father, Steve (Greg Kinnear), is an artist and musician. Somehow he manages to afford a $3 million beachfront property on the Atlantic, while he crafts a stain-glassed window for a recently burned down local church. Ronnie has recently graduated from high school (meaning Miley is playing an older part?) and has been accepted into Julliard. But she has descended into a standard teenage emo depression, meaning that she’s given up her music and become bitter and angry at life, particularly her father.
So while Jonah spends time getting reacquainted with his father, Ronnie roams the beaches. She makes a few friends, notably Blaze, real name Galadriel (Carly Chaikin). Blaze has her own problems, including an abusive boyfriend, and is alternately Ronnie’s friend and enemy. More importantly, Ronnie runs into Will (Liam Hemsworth) in an excruciating meet-cute involving a spilled strawberry milkshake. He’s a shirtless beach volleyball player, and initially comes across as a bit of a jerk. But Ronnie and Will keep running into each other until they have no choice but to get to know each other better. Eventually this evolves into kissing montages almost as painful as the first meet-cute.
Will turns out to be more complex than he initially appears. Meanwhile, Ronnie and her father eventually begin to restart their relationship. Turns out all Ronnie needed to emerge from her funk was the affection of a tall, handsome, fabulously wealthy young man with his own insecurities. As the film continues a fantastic number of contrived plot devices rear their ugly heads, including arson, a car accident, a spoiled wedding, and cancer.
It’s not that the film is terrible. The production is adequate, and Tybee Island (a recent vacation there was the only reason for me to watch the film) is a pleasant shooting location. Greg Kinnear is subtle as Ronnie’s sympathetic father, but the majority of the rest of the cast struggles to keep pace. The acting from the younger cast members ranges from tepid to overly hammy. Miley struggles to effectively show any range, though she has the pouty, bitter teenager act (like a female version of everyone James Dean ever played) down pat. Next minute, however, she’s bubbly and happy, and can’t manage any emotion in between.
Much of the film is painful for an audience hoping for something more than generic formula. There are far too many coincidental meetings, and almost every single character feels like a walking cliche. There’s the stuck-up wealthy mother, the jealous ex-girlfriend eager to spread lies, the brooding, hurt teenager, the blond beach jerk with a secret mistake in his past. Ronnie and Will’s relationship goes through similarly contrived vacillations. To make matters worse, there are a number of extended montages, all with current pop hits running through the background.
The Last Song may appeal to fans of teenage romantic dramas. Unfortunately, it is beset by a large number of cliched situations and characters, and never even tries to break the tried and true romantic drama formula. It isn’t terrible enough to become a staple for bad movie nights, and not good enough to enjoy more than a random scene or two. This leaves it in the worst possible place for a film: the dreaded valley of nothingness, where it inspires no ecstasy or loathing, and is merely “meh.”