Nicholas Sparks’ novels are formulaic, simple and cheesy, but girls love them. Adaptations of Sparks’ novels have the potential to be transformed for the screen into an epic love story, like The Notebook, but they can just as easily fizzle out into Razzy-worthy trainwrecks. The movie version of The Last Song was a giant “almost” in every way: it was almost funny; it was almost touching; it was almost good.
The novel, on the other hand, was another Sparks hit. Sparks focused on the unique father-daughter relationship between a Juilliard-caliber teen musician and her concert-pianist dad, while appropriately keeping the daughter’s charming teenage romance as a side plot. But Hollywood, exploiting the lovesick 13-year-old demographic, shamefully skipped over the father’s storyline in favor of the more marketable make-out scenes.
The movie starts off with Ronnie Miller (Miley Cyrus), a moody, hormonal teenager, and her little brother being forced to spend the summer with their estranged dad, Steve (Greg Kinnear). Ronnie blames her dad for almost everything and spends most of the movie hating him.
Despite Cyrus’ natural aptitude for portraying adolescent attitude, her character still lacks the depth and dimension required for believability. A teenager going through that much pain cannot be taken at face value; as written, Ronnie could be an enormously complex character, but Cyrus doesn’t even begin to tap into the character’s depth.
Leave it to Hollywood to instigate a complete 180 by instantly converting Ronnie’s hatred into love after one kiss from teen heartthrob, Will Blakelee, played by Liam Hemsworth. Despite her death-stare scowls and generally depressing aura, Will pursues Ronnie with impressive yet questionable persistence.
The lack of character development and abrupt transitions rob the movie of any hope of passing as a respectable, quality film. It seems as if the movie and many of the characters were inspired by elements of Sparks’ most successful film adaptation, The Notebook.
The Last Song’s love scene montages are set up exactly the same way as they are in The Notebook, with a beach scene, car scene, dinner with the rich family who doesn’t accept the relationship, etc.
Even while watching Cyrus it’s almost impossible to not think of Rachel McAdams, for Cyrus mimics many of The Notebook star’s mannerisms.
Unlike The Notebook, however, The Last Song just falls short. All the components of a good love story are there, but it simply isn’t executed with the same quality of acting, originality or commitment.
Once the movie steps away from the typical love plot, however, it gains back at least some semblance of respectability. When the father-daughter musical connection finally re-emerges, authenticity came with it.
The montage scenes in which Ronnie and her dad get to know each other while his sickness worsens actually mimic the romance scenes, but do so with much more success. Kinnear and Cyrus’ chemistry as father and daughter makes for a particularly heartrending relationship as the father’s condition deteriorates.
All the actors handled themselves with maturity and believability in the emotional scenes at least, which was a pleasant surprise.
At the end of the day, The Last Song is enjoyable — it just isn’t enough to surpass its predecessors. Cyrus is cute and lovable, Hemsworth is charming and swoon-worthy, the music is classic and the little brother is adorable. The film achieves what it sets out to do, but not much more than that.
In so many respects, the movie is almost there. In a couple years, Cyrus might perfect her acting abilities, and she might turn out to be an actress — just not yet.