Now that Miley Cyrus is 17, it's about time she played a
16-year-old. That she does fetchingly in "The Last Song," and wins
the heart of a beach volleyball champion a foot taller than she is. Well,
actually 12.5 inches. She also learns to love her dad, played by Greg Kinnear,
whose aura suggests a man easier to love than, say, Steve Buscemi. She does
this on an idyllic island paradise off Savannah, Georgia, where her dad is a
classical composer whose pastime is restoring stained-glass windows.
I was trying to remember the last time I felt the way about a
girl that Miley Cyrus's fans feel about her. That would have been in 1959, when
I saw Hayley Mills in "Tiger Bay." Oh, she was something. A brave
tomboy. She was 12, but I could wait. It's a bit much to ask for the same
innocence from Miley, who has already had her first World Tour, but the fact
is, she does a good job of making her character Ronnie engaging and lovable.
That's despite her early Alienated Teen scenes. You know it's an Alienated Teen
when it's a lovely day on an island paradise, but she has her hands pulled up
inside the sleeves of her sweater and huddles against the chill of the cold,
like Miley Cyrus. I like her in spite of the fact that she's been packaged
within an inch of her life. I look forward to the day when she squirms loose
from her handlers and records an album of classic songs, performed with the
same sincerity as her godmother, Dolly Parton. I think it'll be a long, long
time until she plays a movie character like the free-standing, engaging
heroines of Ashley Judd, but I can wait.
Last Song" is about how Ronnie (Miley) and her little brother Jonah (Bobby
Coleman) are taken by their mother (Kelly Preston) to spend the summer with
their dad Steve (Kinnear). She blames her dad for the divorce, is sullen and
withdrawn. Ten minutes after she hits the beach (dressed in Gothic black), her
milk shake is spilled by a flying volleyball player named Will (Liam
Hemsworth). Talk about your Meet Cutes. Gradually she overcomes her hostility
to Men and realizes Will is a nice and honorable kid, even though he lives in a
vast Southern mansion with insufferable rich parents.
and Will make an attractive couple, possibly because Miley is standing on a box
below camera range. I suspect Hemsworth may have been cast for his appeal to
fangirls, rather like Robert Pattinson in "Twilight." He's a little
too tall, blonde, blue-eyed and hunky to be super plausible. He can definitely
become a star, but it may be in the Peter O'Toole tradition; I can more easily
imagine him in a remake of "Lawrence of Arabia" than as a settled
spouse in a domestic drama.
Cyrus, on the other hand, is attractive in the way of a girl you might actually
meet. Her acting is unaffected, she can play serious, and she works easily with
a pro like Kinnear, whose light comedy skills are considerable and undervalued.
She even seems sincere in the face of a plot so blatantly contrived it seems
like an after-school special. Would you believe that she and Will bond over sea
she scares off a raccoon trying to raid a nest of eggs buried in the sand, and
mounts an all-night vigil over them. Then she calls the aquarium, and who do
you think is the handsome volunteer who responds to the call? Standing watch
together the second night, Ronnie and Will start talking, and it's only a
matter of time until they regard together the itty bitty turtles hurrying
toward the sea.
other big crisis of her summer is that she' a trained classical pianist, but
has just turned down a scholarship to Juilliard because her dad, you see, is
such a snake. In a world containing divorce, what's the use of Mozart? The
film's title relates to this situation, I believe, in some obscure way. Miley
does, however, sing in the movie. She's mad at her dad, but not her fans.
Last Song" is based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, who also wrote
the screenplay. Sparks recently went on record as saying he is a greater
novelist than Cormac McCarthy. This is true in the same sense that I am a
better novelist than William Shakespeare. Sparks also said his novels are like
Greek Tragedies. This may actually be true. I can't check it out because,
tragically, no really bad Greek tragedies have survived. His story here amounts
to soft porn for teenage girls, which the acting and the abilities of director
Julie Anne Robinson have promoted over its pay scale.
movie is intended, of course, for Miley Cyrus admirers, and truth compels me to
report that on that basis alone, it would get four stars. But we cannot all be
Miley Cyrus fans, and these days you rarely hear Hayley Mills mentioned. Yet I
award the film two and a half stars.
be sure, I resent the sacrilege Nicholas Sparks commits by mentioning himself
in the same sentence as Cormac McCarthy. I would not even allow him to say
"Hello, bookstore? This is Nicholas Sparks. Could you send over the new
Cormac McCarthy novel?" He should show respect by ordering anonymously.
But it seems unfair to penalize Miley Cyrus fans, Miley herself, and the next
Peter O'Toole for the transgressions of a lesser artist.