Engineered to entice tween female moviegoers and repel everyone else, The Last Song marries Hannah Montana moppet Miley Cyrus and soapy novelist Nicholas Sparks to unsurprisingly melodramatic results. Both entertainment industry bigwigs’ respective trademarks are in full effect throughout Julie Anne Robinson’s film about a rebellious teen named Ronnie (Cyrus) who’s forced to spend the summer at the Georgia beach home of the father (Greg Kinnear) she still blames for abandoning her. Still, if Cyrus’s preference for vacant, faraway stares and toothy grins over persuasive emoting is on prominent display, the actress’s imprint on the proceedings is nonetheless minor compared to that of Sparks’s.
Written for Cyrus in conjunction with the accompanying novel, Sparks’s squishy script trots out every one of his favorite mushy clichés. From the picture-postcard setting, class-based tensions, and preeminent importance of daddy-daughter bonds, to the preponderance of sunset kisses, music montages, and secrets waiting to be revealed, the film plays like a Sparks greatest-hits collection, or, to be more blunt, an example of lazy, stale regurgitation. Central to Ronnie’s summer is her romance with hunky rich kid Will (Liam Hemsworth), whose too-good-to-be-trueness (he’s kind, polite, chivalrous, and volunteers at the local aquarium!) is matched by the unassailable altruism of everyone in this mushy saga, including Ronnie, a supposed bad girl who doesn’t drink or steal boyfriends, but does dedicate her nights to sleeping on the beach in order to protect sea turtle eggs from being eaten by a pesky raccoon.
For the most part, the film proves disposable but competent schmaltz designed to engender requisite ooohs over Will’s shirtless body and awwws over Ronnie’s thawing bitchy attitude toward both Will and her doting father. As in so many of the author’s projects, however, lovey-dovey sap must inevitably be complicated by tragedy, which here takes the form of one character’s slow demise—emphasis on slow. By the time said figure finally kicks the bucket, thereby fulfilling his plot-device purpose of helping Ronnie complete her maturation process, The Last Song has long since transformed from trifling fantasy to flagrantly manipulative drivel.