The Last Song Review
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It seems that there’s a big market for author Nicholas Sparks’s particular brand of weepy dramas this year. Not that long ago, Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried paired up for the gut-wrenching Dear John. And now it seems that the studios are trying to cash in on a younger market, bringing in teen sensation Miley Cyrus to star in the latest Sparks sniffler, The Last Song.

In her first big live-action, non-Hannah Montana role, Cyrus stars as Ronnie Miller, a recent high school grad who’s sent—along with her little brother, Jonah (Bobby Coleman)—to her dad’s place in Georgia for the summer. Still angry and bitter about her parents’ divorce, Ronnie wants nothing to do with her dad (Greg Kinnear)—or with the music that he taught her to love. Though she’s been accepted to Juilliard, she’s stopped playing the piano out of rebellion, choosing instead to shoplift and hang out with the wrong crowd.

Still, there’s something sweet and loving left deep down inside Ronnie—and it comes shining through when she meets Will (Liam Hemsworth), a local beach bum / grease monkey / aquarium volunteer / knight in shining armor, who manages to get beyond her prickly façade. But as Will falls in love with Ronnie, he’s faced with some difficult decisions.

The Last Song is a Nicholas Sparks movie for beginners. It has the same dreamy seaside setting, the same life-changing romance, the same parade of human tragedy—yet it tries to be both lighter and edgier than the usual Sparks fare, seemingly in an attempt to reach out to a younger audience. The problem, however, is that none of it feels natural.

Ronnie isn’t the typical female lead—or at least not for the first half hour or so. She’s bitter and resentful, and she’s far from lovable. She’s got a nose ring and a criminal record—and she sulks around the beach in a dreary black wardrobe (surrounded by all kinds of smiling, bikini-clad teens). It’s an unusual role for Cyrus—and one that she seems seriously uncomfortable playing. She’s not Kristen Stewart; she’s Miley Cyrus. She’s got a bubbly personality and a big, goofy grin—and her character’s sulking seems painfully, awkwardly unnatural.

Fortunately for Smiley Miley, though, the angst doesn’t last long. Once she falls in love, Ronnie is suddenly giggly and happy and totally Miley—which then feels painfully out of place in a Sparks movie. The performances are alternately goofy and dopey, with Kinnear and Coleman often acting as silly, slapstick sidekicks. Meanwhile, though the usual hardships are there—everything from jealous ex-girlfriends to lovers’ spats (and, of course, the Sparks staple: terminal illness), with some serious accidents and accusations thrown in—they’re often brushed aside. Storylines go undeveloped and subplots go unexplored (like a seemingly significant death in Will’s family, which is mentioned just once), replaced with scenes from a random beach volleyball tournament (which seems like little more than another excuse to film Hemsworth shirtless).

Of course, The Last Song still offers plenty of reasons to reach for the tissues—so if you’re eagerly planning a mother-daughter sobfest with your young Nicholas Sparks newbie, don’t let me stop you. In fact, you’re in luck—because the uneven storytelling and awkward acting will give you even more to cry about.

Blu-ray Review:
The two-disc Blu-ray release of The Last Song includes both Blu-ray and DVD copies of the film, along with a handful of extras. Like most releases, this one comes with some extended/deleted scenes—including an alternate opening sequence involving the church fire. There’s also a commentary with director Julia Ann Robinson and producer Jennifer Gibgot, who awkwardly giggle their way through some interesting movie trivia (from the ridiculous heat and humidity during filming to the building of the church, which is now a visitors’ center on Tybee Island).

The most entertaining feature, however, shows young star Bobby Coleman as he wanders around the set, interviewing everyone from hair and makeup to Miley’s whittling security guard and the barefoot grip. If you’ve ever wanted to learn a little bit more about what goes on behind the scenes, this fun five-minute feature gives an amusing glimpse of life on-set.

Surprisingly, Smiley Miley herself makes very few appearances in the special features—mostly just for a few seconds during Bobby’s set tour. But fans will enjoy the “When I Look at You” music video. Though the film itself doesn’t have a making-of feature, the video does—with director (and The Last Song producer) Adam Shankman taking fans behind the scenes.

The Last Song Blu-ray release isn’t exactly loaded with must-see special features. But if you have time for just one extra after watching the movie, be sure to check out the set tour. Bobby’s wide-eyed enthusiasm makes it enjoyable—and its cast of unusual crew members makes it a quick little treat for movie lovers.

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