Break out the tissues and skip the mascara, because there’s no escape from the tear-jerking clutches of The Last Song.
In her first big-screen departure from Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus plays Ronnie Miller, a musically-gifted teen with a pretty face and a tough attitude. When she and her little bro Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are shipped from New York to the Southern coast to spend the summer with their dad, family issues, filial bonding and romance ensue — but not without a shameless amount of melodrama and no-holds-barred emotional manipulation that could bring the most cynical of movie-goers to their knees.
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Ronnie arrives at her estranged father’s house full of rage and sports combat boots to prove it. In opening scenes that feature her stomping and sulking her way across the beach, both her choice of footwear and her tough-girl demeanor are regionally inappropriate and ready for readjustment, stat. Luckily, she meets hunky volleyball player Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth) within minutes of arrival. Instantly smitten, he begins to break her down until she’s helpless in the face of his adorable dimples, perfect teeth, Ivy-League grooming and blue-blood pedigree. Soon, they’re in the throes of gilded summer romance, and there’s no turning back — except, that is, when Ronnie’s childish ‘tude takes over from time to time, turning on a dime and threatening to ruin everything. While The Last Song employs all the usual devices that typify films from author and co-writer Nicholas Sparks, it rises above the romantic drama riff-raff with multiple relationship arcs, touching plot details and a polished look perfect for the tween set. As Ronnie and Will play out their star-crossed romance, Ronnie and her dad, Steve (Greg Kinnear), have some patching-up to do as he strives to connect with her through their shared love of music, and she reluctantly seeks out his parental advice. Little Jonah, meanwhile, holds his own with scenes that are absolutely realistic for a younger brother left with the short end of the family drama stick.
Along with trying family dynamics, the Millers also encounter events outside their control, which add texture to the The Last Song’s particularly addictive form of saccharine. There’s an ugly secret ripe for telling, painful class division, some mean girls, one especially mean boy and a nest of adorable turtle eggs that become far more than a plot device. With a relentlessly touchy-feely soundtrack that features indie faves like José Gonzáles, Iron & Wine and — obvs! — Miley Cyrus, each dramatic beat gets its own musical sucker-punch that takes no prisoners.
Don’t even bother trying to hold the tears in — each blow (Ronnie’s baby brother is neglected!) is followed by yet another (Blake has problems too!) and still another (Someone leaves forever!). For Cyrus, The Last Song is a chance to prove she can do more than broad, Disney-style kid stuff (she has a few old habits to break). For audiences, the film is one big, messy cry that leaves no choice but to snivel loudly, and long for summer.