The Last Song Has a Familiar Refrain
- Monday, April 05, 2010
DVD Release Date: August 17, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: March 31, 2010
Rating: PG (for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language)
Run Time: 107 min.
Director: Julie Anne Robinson
Actors: Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Liam Hemsworth, Bobby Coleman, Kelly Preston, Carly Chaikin, Hallock Beals, Nick Lashaway
The Last Song, written for the screen by novelist Nicholas Sparks, is treacly, preposterous and full of clichés. It's also moving and, for the most part, family-friendly, focusing on themes of human failure and forgiveness. Sparks' story has to bend over backward to get to the message at the heart of The Last Song. He puts his characters through out-of-nowhere plot machinations and sometimes draws hokey, symbolic story parallels. But if you can stomach the moments that stretch believability, the payoff has its rewards.
Sound like a paradox? It is, although not a deeply thoughtful one. The Last Song is a film that begs to be dismissed, but which offers just enough to earn a recommendation. The more movies one has seen, and the more life one has lived, the less tolerant one might be of the forced elements in The Last Song. However, the film's target audience—pre-teen and teenage fans of pop-music star Miley Cyrus—will be less demanding and more open to the central romance in the story, while adults will connect with the compassion shown by Ronnie's parents.
Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) and her younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are sent to live with their father, Steve (Greg Kinnear), at his Georgia home for the summer. Jonah squeals with joy upon seeing dad; Ronnie crosses her arms and looks surly. In case it's not clear, Ronnie's mom (Kelly Preston) explains to Steve that Ronnie's still grappling with the ramifications of her parents' separation. "We hurt them, Steve. Especially Ronnie," says Ronnie's mom.
Ronnie has great musical talent and has been accepted to Juilliard, but she stopped playing piano, and her dad's efforts to get her to start up again—he's a composer—are met with derision. Unwilling to meet her dad halfway, Ronnie spends her days at the beach, dressed in black. Her appearance raises eyebrows among the bikini-clad girls, but she soon catches the eye of beach-volleyball player Will (Liam Hemsworth). She also makes fast friends with Blaze (Carly Chaikin), who's in need of a good role model. Meanwhile, Blaze hooks up with a lecherous boyfriend whose advances toward Ronnie create a misunderstanding and lead to a rift in the girls' friendship.
Ronnie's blossoming relationship with Will takes up the slack. Her protective instincts, which have been inwardly directed—she's as fragile and vulnerable as the sea-turtle eggs she and Will watch over, until the turtles safely hatch and move toward their next stage of life (metaphor alert!)—fall away as she allows herself to fall in love and as she rethinks her future plans.
[Spoiler Alert: The following plot development is important to discussion of the film's themes, but viewers may prefer to be surprised by it.]
Then mortality rears its head. Steve becomes gravely ill, setting the stage for a soul-clearing confession, an extension of forgiveness, and, of course, a scene or two of personal reconciliation. Talk about the afterlife is vaguely spiritual rather than explicitly doctrinal, but Kinnear's sincere performance carries the film whenever it threatens to become mawkish.
The Last Song is, in a way, a simpler, PG-rated version of PG-13-rated The Yellow Handkerchief, released just a few weeks earlier on far fewer screens. That film focuses on a man (played by William Hurt) who thought he had lost the person he loved the most, and who, with the help of a troubled young girl, finds the courage to risk rejection again while searching for forgiveness. In The Last Song, Steve hopes for reconciliation not with his wife, but with his daughter. Like Hurt's character in The Yellow Handkerchief, he knows he's hurt someone who depended on him, and he must wait patiently until she realizes that she needs to extend forgiveness before she can move on with her life.
The Last Song is not as well made as The Yellow Handkerchief (which was not a problem-free film by any means), and Kinnear's steady performance doesn't match Hurt's exceptional work in Handkerchief. But The Last Song, which has taken a drubbing from most film critics, is better than many of the reviews indicate. It isn't high art, and it offers nothing you haven't seen done in several other films—sometimes better than it's done here. Still, the film ultimately connects with viewers and drives home its point, which is summed up by a character late in the film: "We make mistakes. We screw up. But then we forgive and move forward."
It sounds simple, but anyone who's tried to live that philosophy knows how difficult it can be—and how freeing, when embraced. Despite its contrivances, The Last Song deserves credit for making that message resonate.
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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