Friday, November 12, 2010

Don’t Care About Nicholas Sparks Or Miley Cyrus? The Last Song Isn’t For You.

The Good: Surprisingly good supporting acting, Decent cinematography, Moments of character development
The Bad: 99% predictable, Very Hollywood casting, Miley Cyrus's performance, Subplot stagnation.
The Basics: Despite the leads having decent chemistry, The Last Song sinks as an unoriginal romantic movie from Nicholas Sparks which is too frequently distracted by itself.

No sooner is the prior Nicholas Sparks movie finally kicking out of my local movie theaters than the next one is coming to town. And frankly, I’d be sick of it, except that the current one might be better than the prior one. I wasn’t wowed by Dear John (click here for that review!) arguably because it was so predictable and droll that I felt like I had sat through the film about five hundred times prior. That said, the latest Nicholas Sparks book-made-film or film/book combo (rumor is he finished the script before the book was done), The Last Song actually works better than prior Sparks films I’ve endured. Sadly, there’s still not quite enough to make me recommend The Last Song, but that comes more from the fact that Sparks has already told this story before (time and time and time again) than actual problems within the film. Indeed, if this had been the first Nicholas Sparks adaptation I has seen, I might well have recommended it.

As it stands, though, I’ve seen far too many movies based upon the literary works of Nicholas Sparks for my liking and The Last Song does not do anything sufficiently different to make me gush. The Last Song is very much a typical Nicholas Sparks story, so those coming into it will expect – in addition to unrealistically beautiful people populating the world they see there – that there is a tragedy before the end and only the dimmest viewers will not see it coming. That said, I have not read the book upon which this is based, so this is a rather pure review of the film, not how well it was adapted. Actually, the truth is, there are enough flaws in The Last Song to make me disappointed by it, but those come more in the execution than the idea.

Following the rough divorce of her parents, Ronnie Miller is invited by her father down to Tybee Island (Georgia) for the summer. Pushed to go by her mother, Kim, who is busy making plans to get remarried, Ronnie and her younger brother Jonah arrive at their father’s house feeling very distant from him. Steve tries to reach out to Ronnie, but finds he does not truly know her, including the fact that she was accepted to Juilliard but does not plan to attend. So, Steve begins the difficult work of trying to reconnect with his daughter, including through music – which was something they bonded with before – and through repairing a stained glass window for a local church.

But in her comings and goings, Ronnie meets local boys, including Will. Ronnie is disinterested in Will at first because he appears to be a dumb jock beach volleyball player. But, when she learns he is a volunteer at an aquarium and he makes an effort to save some endangered Loggerhead turtles nearby, she rethinks her original conception. They fall in love, but tragedy and the ticking clock of the end of summer vacation loom and Ronnie must make choices which will set her life on its proper path.

Yeah, it’s pretty predictable in a Nicholas Sparks one-trick pony romance way.

What makes The Last Song more palatable than most Nicholas Sparks romance movies is that the leads actually have some decent chemistry between them and the story actually calls itself on some of its own conceits. Leads Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth actually have decent on-screen chemistry, which is no surprise when one considers they’ve been dating since. Hemsworth is an unrealistically good-looking actor who is the brother of Chris Hemsworth from last summer’s Star Trek. Chris Hemsworth barely had a role in Star Trek, but he made a distinct impression opening the film as George Kirk and filling out the whole manly heroic role which will make him popular on the convention circuit if he ever needs the income (if Thor flops). Conversely, Liam Hemsworth has a lot more lines, a lot more airtime and actually has to be in scenes with his on-screen love interest and he makes it work. For sure, people don’t actually look like Hemsworth outside the movies, but there are enough moments when Liam sells the viewer on his character’s desire to be real and kind that the viewer is ready to believe in him by the end. While most films set men up for ridiculous standards of women, The Last Song makes the hunky environmentalist with a college-ready vocabulary who has not been seen in film for quite some time.

As for Miley Cyrus, she warms into the role, but starts with an unpleasant turn that makes the movie utterly unbearable at the outset. Cyrus plays Ronnie as a snotty teenager and she walks around with a sneer on her face that takes far too long to dissipate. As a result, she strides around as the least-interesting demographic in movies today, the self-important, arrogant, entitled child who wants to be an adult and in that part of the movie, she is utterly unwatchable, arguably because Cyrus nails the role completely. Then, her character begins to thaw and Cyrus is able to do some actual acting. She is credible as a musically-gifted Ronnie who is on the verge of going off to college and is still figuring out life and love. One supposes it’s not much of an acting stretch when you’re playing the demographic you are.

But the actor to watch is Greg Kinnear. He gives a solid performance as Steve Miller, the father of Ronnie and Jonah and he makes the viewer believe in his desire to bond with Ronnie and Jonah as well as his inability to work things out with Kim. Kinnear is the “cool dad” character and after seeing him as a character who is utterly miserable in virtually everything else, it is nice to see Kinnear can still pull off charming, fun and – when the film demands it of him – pained and realistic. Disney is selling The Last Song on the talents of Cyrus, but Kinnear steals every scene he is in and when the teenage love story becomes trite, the character arc of Steve is watchable.

Even so, I couldn’t bring myself to recommend The Last Song, which could be the next big film where the soundtrack has a more enduring impact on the charts than the film itself. The chemistry between the characters and the decent, adult performances of Kinnear, Cyrus, Hemsworth and (briefly) Kelly Preston are not enough to recommend the sappy, predictable romance of The Last Song. The film will likely be a winner for children and teenagers who aren’t going for the big-budget special effects films at the outset of Summer Blockbuster Season (which this might have just enough staying power to last into), but the adults who are dragged to it as guardians will likely be unsurprised and bored by it.

The turtle subplot, which initially impressed me, is awkwardly inserted into the film and as a result, there is a lack of flow around the sudden education and earnesty toward saving the sea creatures. While I originally enjoyed the divergence, it is a divergence and it fleshes out the characters in a very generic way while waiting for the plot and characters to actually develop.

Parents have nothing to fear from this PG film. There are no Miley Cyrus sex scenes and while there’s “beach violence,” there’s worse on television commercials.

For other Disney movies, please check out my reviews of:
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
The Little Mermaid


For other movie reviews, please be sure to check out my ever-growing index page by clicking here!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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