Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Last Song: A Review


Ah, l'amour, that magnificent, overpowering emotion that makes one abandon all rational thought and sweeps you up in fantasy.

No one knows how least to capture love than Nicholas Sparks, if I go by the film adaptations of his books. We've already been treated to Dear John, and now we have The Last Song. In a curious turn of events, Sparks had a film version of The Last Song while the novel was still in the Best Seller List.

I find it a curious coincidence, or a punishment from a most wrathful deity.

Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) and her younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are sent to Georgia for the summer to spend time with their father Steve (Greg Kinnear) by their mother Kim (Kelly Preston). Ronnie is your typical teenager: moody, angry, sullen, edgy. You can tell by her scowl and black wardrobe in this world of summer sunshine.

Even though she is a talented pianist, even getting accepted to Julliard, she has steadfastly refused to play ever since her parents divorced. In the course of her first night at her father's beachfront property, she meets Blaze, real name Galadriel (Carly Chaikin), fellow goth girl, Blaze's boyfriend Marcus (Nick Lashaway) an obviously sleazy bad boy, and Will (Liam Hemsworth) the typical golden boy, with the golden curls and six-pack abs.

Ronnie has a lot of hostility towards the world, and especially her father, but she has a soft side. Ronnie discovers a nest of turtles she is determined to save from raccoons, and to her surprise, Will comes from the local aquarium to help her.

Soon, a romance blossoms between Ronnie and Will, but there are difficulties. Will's family, whom we discover is a wealthy and influential one, believes Ronnie is all wrong for him. Will himself holds knowledge of a secret that directly involves Steve (a secret that is harming Steve's soul and wrecking his reputation). Steve himself has a secret: he is dying. Ronnie eventually comes to acknowledge her talent, her love for her father, and her love for the Golden Boy Will.

The Last Song should be called Variations on A Theme by Sparks, because we are entering familiar territory. The story isn't original (given the author, it should be no surprise), and the acting varies from strong to weak.

If one wants to look for the positive, Kinnear has left the memories of his hosting duties on Talk Soup far, far behind. He is always understated in The Last Song, and, other than having the unfortunate name of Steve Miller (was Sparks trying to suggest that the character was a joker, was a smoker, was a midnight toker?) Kinnear projects a gentleness and sadness to Steve. He has the best scenes with Coleman's Jonah: those father-son bonding moments are quite gentle and almost touching, although they are a bit on the heavy side.

Coleman for his part was on the whole far more interesting a character, but he was terribly chipper a great deal of the time, almost to the point of annoyance. Still, he was required to be the requisite Cute Kid, and he managed to do that.

Chaikin and Lashaway as demented lovers Blaze and Marcus really had nothing to do with the overall plot of The Last Song, and throughout the movie I wondered why they were there...other than to provide Ronnie with a 'frienemy' and Will with a chance to fight. They really had no business being there because their scenes were brief and before you know it they leave almost as soon as they came in.

Well, now you have our leads, and while they may be or have been romantically paired off-screen, they don't have any real connection on-screen.

Cyrus doesn't have the experience to ground The Last Song in its pathos, and while granted the situations and dialogue from Jeff Van Wie and Sparks himself don't do her any favors, with such lines as:
It's what I do, Mom. I push people away.
as directed by Julie Anne Robinson it's Ronnie who appears dead most of the time. Cyrus believes that pouting is a sign of emotional range, and she does quite a bit of pouting in the film. She even manages to pout at her own father's funeral. This does not bode well for her future as a dramatic actress as opposed to the light fare of Hannah Montana.

Hemsworth appears to think, or perhaps was told, that his main purpose was to look beautiful and stare blankly. Even in moments that call for a deep dramatic reaction, such as when he tells Ronnie about the tragedies within his family, Hemsworth can't do it.

I might put him on that list of Emotionless Actors: performers who while looking beautiful (and given the montage of his beach volleyball tournament, Robinson and Company didn't waste a chance to show off his body) cannot project any true emotion or make us believe the characters are real people and not just faces/bodies.

Wie and Sparks should also be taken to task for throwing an endless number of clichés at The Last Song. It's bad enough the whole plot of the film is one gigantic cliché (the troubled talent finds love and forgiveness) but everything within it is almost insulting to a thinking audience. Isn't it the way of the world that:
  1. the rich parents won't approve of the girl from the wrong side of the tracks
  2. the guy the main character least expects is the one who will be perfect for her
  3. the girl will always overhear a shocking secret just as it's revealed
  4. the dying person will end his life hearing beautiful music created for him
  5. the dying man will knock over a glass of liquid to let everyone know he's dead
  6. a bright light will shine through a stained-glass window (and that window will be of The Resurrection)
  7. the love of her life will arrive just in time to hear the bereaved's touching tribute?
It all is thrown in there with gusto but one can't help think it's all just way too much to tolerate.

There are good things within The Last Song. Kinnear and a completely wasted Preston handle their roles with a deft touch, and the actual song itself isn't bad. However, Hemsworth and Cyrus don't have the experience, or a good script, or strong directing, to have us believe they are lovers (and like in any Sparks book, the most chaste of lovers).

It's a lousy story and so hopeless out of tune.

I include some Personal Reflections on The Last Song author Nicholas Sparks.


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