It hasn’t even been quite two months and I’ve already been subjected to yet another outburst of Nicholas Sparks’ folksy schmaltz: The Last Song. I’m not sure what’s more surprising, the fact that I’m not in a diabetic coma at this point or that TV director Julie Anne Robinson—working from a screenplay co-written by the Sparkster himself—has made a movie that makes Lasse Halström’s Dear John look like a work of pure class and genius.
I’m sure it doesn’t help that Sparks has been going around in interviews claiming he’s a better writer than Cormac McCarthy and comparing himself to Hemingway. I’ve, admittedly, never read a letter of Sparks’ prose, but I’d wager that this is poppycock—Hemingway never came close to peddling the kind of ham-fisted, melodramatic cheese Sparks has made a fortune on.
Actually, it’s almost kind of impressive that anyone could unabashedly cart out the hoariest of soap-opera chestnuts and then somehow try and pass them off as original. The Last Song boasts your general Sparks-powered plotting, where boy meets girl just before 90 or so minutes of hard luck gains a foothold. Here, the girl is Ronnie (Miley Cyrus), an angst-ridden teen—who’s amazingly talented at the piano (as we’re shown by Miley’s hand double)—forced to move from New York to Georgia with her whiny comic-relief brother (Bobby Coleman, Post Grad) to live with their estranged father (Greg Kinnear, giving way more than this movie deserves) by the beach.
Ronnie soon meets Will (Liam Hemsworth, the poor man’s Paul Walker), a hunky mechanic with a heart of gold. Wary of his advances at first, Ronnie soon falls for this shirtless rube. But this being a Sparks adaptation, they can’t simply just live happily ever after. Nope, fate and lazy scripting decide to gum up the works with a parade of tough breaks. Everyone in town has a dirty secret or heart-wrenching tragedy they keep covered up. Will lost his brother in a car wreck. Ronnie’s pseudo-friend—and mall goth with an American Gladiator name—Blaze (Carly Chaikin) has an abusive boyfriend (Nick Lashaway). The one who gets it worst, however, is Ronnie’s dad, who’s carrying around the guilt of maybe having passed out and burned down the town’s church. He also has a case of surprise movie cancer.
None of the hokiness ever really gels and is used simply in the service of moving the plot along, since who needs coherency and motivations when you have these handy contrivances. But the movie doesn’t stop there. The film’s also rife with the worst kind of bunk sitcom jokes imaginable and Miley Cyrus being out-acted by a raccoon. All of this cheese-ball rubbish creates one lobotomizing moviegoing experience. If romance weren’t already dead, Nicholas Sparks and Hannah Montana might’ve just pulled the plug on it. Rated PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language.