The Last Song

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You guys, Miley Cyrus is totally growing up. As Ronnie Miller, the protagonist in “The Last Song” — her first big onscreen role since Hannah Montana — she does teenager-y things like act rebellious and kiss a boy. She even storms off in a huff. In fact, she does that a lot. Half the movie is her storming off in this huff or that huff.

She arrives in a huff, actually, angry at having to spend the summer with her father (Greg Kinnear) at his beachside home in Georgia instead of back with her mom in New York. Ronnie’s little brother, Jonah (Bobby Coleman), is here too, and he’s thrilled. He’s too young to appreciate, as Ronnie does, how lame and terrible their dad is for leaving them a few years ago.

Dad composes music on the piano. This might be his job; the movie is cagey on the details of Dad’s occupation. The movie, which is based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, is only interested in Ronnie. Everyone else is of secondary importance. Ronnie used to be a pianist herself but stopped playing after Dad left, and now hates the very sound of the instrument. Despite not having played in a while, she has been accepted at Juilliard in the fall — Juilliard is known for accepting students who did not apply and who don’t play an instrument anymore — but she’s not going. School is for losers. Or something. Can’t you see she’s BROODING??

While moping around the boardwalk in the quaint seaside town, all sullen-faced and slack-jawed, Ronnie bumps into Will (Liam Hemsworth), a studly volleyball player who during the school year is probably captain of the basketball team or class president or whatever. Ronnie and Will are destined to fall in love, of course. Since this is a Nicholas Sparks story, you’d assume one of them is destined to be dead before the movie’s over, too, but no spoilers here.

Will takes Ronnie on a date to the aquarium, where he works. Ronnie is enchanted, until Ashley (Melissa Ordway), one of Will’s ex-girlfriends, warns her not to be fooled: Will ALWAYS takes girls to the aquarium. That’s his shtick. Ronnie is furious to learn that Will dated other girls before she arrived in town, and she storms off in a huff. Then she gets over it and they kiss. This amuses and delights Ronnie’s dad, who JUST LAST NIGHT literally drew a line in the sand to warn Will not to get too frisky with his daughter while they were hanging out on the beach. Now, 24 hours later, he’s tickled pink to see Ronnie swapping spit with the local boy.

Ronnie gets to storm out in a huff a while later, when she learns that Will comes from a wealthy family and she immediately feels inferior and embittered. Another huff is stormed out of shortly thereafter, when Ronnie learns that Will’s sister is getting married and Ashley the ex-girlfriend is INVITED TO THE WEDDING!!

It goes on like that for a while. In one scene, Ronnie sings along with the radio (a Maroon 5 song) only so Will can tell her she has a beautiful voice, because what would be the point of Miley Cyrus being in a movie if someone couldn’t tell her she had a beautiful voice? In another scene, her little brother helps her choose a dress for a special occasion, which can only mean one thing: a montage of trying on lots of clothes!

But wait, what is the movie’s plot? That is a valid question. I do not blame you for asking. For a while it’s about Ronnie and Will’s rocky relationship (rocky because she’s a moody B-word). It’s also about Ronnie’s interactions with the local kids, including a delinquent named Blaze (Carly Chaikin). But in the last 20 minutes or so the movie decides it’s really about Ronnie’s relationship with her dad, and it focuses on that until the end. Huh. Well, whatever you say, movie.

This is the sixth time a Nicholas Sparks book has been turned into a film, but the first time he’s adapted the screenplay himself. (Another first-timer, Jeff Van Wie, is co-credited.) In fact, Sparks says he wrote the novel specifically so it could be turned into a Miley Cyrus movie, which seems like an odd thing to do on purpose, but there you go.

Is it bad? Yes, but in a way that’s mostly harmless. The target audience of 14-year-old girls will probably go for it, and they’ll be inspired to see a heroine who’s as emotional and irrational as they are. The characters behave without motivation, and the story meanders, and the direction (by Julie Anne Robinson, a TV veteran making her first theatrical feature) is slow and plodding, and the tears are jerked gracelessly and methodically. But this is what you want in a Nicholas Sparks movie starring Miley Cyrus, right?

C- (1 hr., 47 min.; PG, a little mild profanity and thematic material.)

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