Starring Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston and Liam Hemsworth. Directed byJulie Anne Robinson.
Rated PG. 107 minutes.
The Last Song is a well-acted coming-of-age story for teenagers that almost hits the mark. Scripted by novelist Nicholas Spark (The Notebook), it merges with some deftness all the hallmarks of teenage angst (rebelliousness against parental authority, emerging sexuality, and a need to find one’s own place in the world), with the added anguish and complexity of having to come to terms with the death of a loved one.
But instead of confronting these issues with originality and raw honesty, The Last Song settles for melodrama and a PG rating.
Spark’s story centres around seventeen year old Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) and her twelve year-old brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman), who are sent by their mother (Kelly Preston) to spend the summer with their estranged father Steve (Greg Kinnear), who has relocated from New York to a beach town in Georgia after an ugly divorce three years before.
Ronnie is a gifted pianist, tutored by Steve who is a former Juilliard professor. But her inability to adjust to what she sees as her father’s desertion, fuels her rebellion, dampens her creativity, and turns her inward.
While Bobby rejoices in making up for lost time with Steve, helping him rebuild the local church’s stained glass window which has been destroyed by fire, Ronnie rejects her father’s overtures, and prefers to scout for kindred spirits amongst the town’s young people who throng its markets and beaches.
Befriended by Blaze (Carly Chaikin) a young shoplifter, Ronnie is introduced to Marcus (Nick Lashaway), the leader of a gang of young thugs, but after a rocky beginning she gets on best with Will (Australian actor Liam Hemsworth), a popular beach volley-ball champ and the son of wealthy parents, who is less shallow than she first thinks.
Ronnie and Will bond through their mutual concern for a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, whose nest on the beach in front of her father’s house is being raided by racoons. Her rapprochement with Steve is through music, but this comes at a heavy price.
The Last Song touches on themes that many teenagers can identify with, namely emotional confusion in the wake of marital breakdown, first love, and the social marginalisation that often comes with being different or new to a community.
Ronnie’s hidden depths, clumsily signalled by her reading of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, are convincingly conveyed by actor-singer Cyrus, whose role in Disney’s television series and film, Hannah Montana, has catapulted her to young stardom.
Her brooding, Brando-esque portrayal of Ronnie is powerfully effective, although there are moments when her screen presence and naturalism sit oddly with the film’s teen-focussed concerns. Also interesting to watch is child star Bobby Coleman as Jonah (who in appearance and emotional range bears a resemblance with Macaulay Culkin at the same age), and Greg Kinnear’s finely-nuanced performance as Steve.
Ultimately, The Last Song slips between two stools. It attempts to be a realistic drama about growing up, yet at the same time seems hamstrung by the need not to offend. As such it will probably have limited appeal for those outside its target audience.
Walt Disney Out Now
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Mrs Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.