WHEN best-selling writer Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Dear John) was penning The Last Song, his 15th novel and also his first film screenplay, he apparently had Miley Cyrus in mind.
It’s a back-handed compliment.
The lead protagonist is an annoying, teenage brat who pouts sullenly when she doesn’t get her own way and wilfully lashes out at the people around her, who love her despite the tantrums.
Sparks wanted to create a father-daughter relationship that would showcase Cyrus’s dramatic range and prove the fresh-faced star of Hannah Montana has untapped emotional depths.
Alas, it’s wishful thinking on the writer’s part because his leading lady is the weakest link in Julie Anne Robinson’s manipulative and mawkish film.
She cannot cry convincingly on camera – screwing up your eyes and wailing doesn’t pass muster for genuine heartache – and the transition from petulant diva to daddy’s girl is awkward and unconvincing.
At least the teen starlet gets to sing both in the film and on the soundtrack, and she is dating her hunky co-star in real life.
That’s the magic of the movies.
Kim Miller (Kelly Preston) makes the long drive from New York to a small Southern beach town to drop off her two kids – Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) and younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) – with her estranged husband Steve (Greg Kinnear) for the summer.
The one thing that used to bring father and daughter together – music – is now the one thing that keeps them apart, since Ronnie has refused to play the piano since he left and she is determined reject an offer to study at Juilliard.
Ronnie’s summer looks a great deal brighter when she meets fellow misfit Blaze (Carly Chaikin) and falls for the charms of hunk Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth).
However, a jealous rival for Will’s affections (Melissa Ordway) and a terrible secret harboured by Will’s mechanic pal Scott (Hallock Beals) cast a dark shadow over the picture-postcard community.
The Last Song is clumsily contrived, from the cutesy incident which brings Ronnie and Will together (the discovery of unhatched turtle eggs) to the spectre of tragedy that haunts the film’s tear-filled final act, which doesn’t want to just break hearts but to smash them repeatedly to a bloody pulp.
Cyrus struggles to find her character’s emotional highs and lows, and she is acted off the screen by Coleman, whose character bonds with his old man over the restoration of stained-glass windows from a burned-down church.