The Last Song (Julie Anne Robinson, 2010)
Category: Sad movie based on a Nicholas Sparks book. I’ve deconstructed the Sparks phenomenon in my post on The Notebook. Devotees will recall that I found that film occasionally sappy but ultimately charming, mainly due to the charisma of its two lead actors, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. It remains to be seen if The Last Song can replicate this formula. (Apropos of nothing, the two lead actors in The Last Song are Miley "Salvia" Cyrus and Liam "Who?" Hemsworth.)
I don’t really know a lot about the plot of this movie, but it looks like a sad movie about short-lived summer romances. This seems to be a main Sparks theme. By that I mean it happened in The Notebook too. They say to write what you know, and so maybe Sparks had one of these when he was young. Or maybe he just really loves Grease. Either way, it’s dramatic GOLD.
Here’s something I find profoundly odd: Sparks was commissioned to write both the screenplay for the film and the novel itself. And he finished the screenplay BEFORE THE NOVEL. Thus I think it’s kind of inaccurate to say that the film was based on the novel. If anything, the book is a novelization of the screenplay, or something. One wonders if Sparks was able to keep track of all this during the writing process, while also counting all of his money.
My familiarity with this issue: First of all, let no one forget that The Last Song was the film that sparked this reaction from noted soccer photographer and friend of the blog Lindsay Filardo. #sad.
When I think about those archetypal summer romances that involve the beach and bonfires and people who play Dave Matthews songs on the guitar while wearing long-sleeved shirts with cargo shorts, it really makes me want to throw up. The beach is terrible. Bonfires are terrible. That last thing is REALLY terrible. It’s not my scene. I also feel like these romances get sparked when the girl sees the guy on the beach with his shirt off, playing Frisbee or some such, and thinks to herself, “what a hunk.” That’s gross. Maybe I’m just jealous: I’ve never been called a hunk, and the sight of me with my shirt off evokes not lust, but a unique mix between pity and ridicule that I call “piticule.” Plus also usually those guys are quite tan, and I’m so white that you can see my heart beat through my chest, like a newborn fish. But still. Keep it in your pants, ladies.
The only reason this movie is at all notable to most people, I think, is the Miley factor. Now I don’t want to rip on Miley too much. “Party in the USA” is a legitimately great song. “See You Again” is also very good. I’ve never seen Hannah Montana but I’m sure it’s not all that bad. It’s the Disney Channel! They have different rules. And as for the salvia thing… I mean, she was just being Miley! (Or so my best friend Leslie tells me.) Yeah, she’s annoying and she has a weird face and she says “pretty cool” a lot and all that. But she’s like eighteen. Cut her a break. Does that mean I think she’ll be a good actress? Oh Lord no. I’m sure she’ll be terrible. But I’m willing to give her a shot in the name of the blog. I reserve the right to bash her mercilessly if she is terrible.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Ronnie's (Miley Cyrus) and her younger brother, Jonah's, parents are divorced. They live with their mother until this summer they are sent to live with their father (Greg Kinnear) in a small town on the beach. Ronnie resents her father and has no intention of being friendly or even talking to him for the summer. But after meeting a handsome guy and beginning to fall in love, Ronnie starts rediscovering her love for music, something she shares with her father. Reconnecting with music revives a kinship with her father which proves to be the most important relationship she may ever experience.”
What I thought of the movie/How I, John Krizel related to the movie: OK listen. Obviously I hated it. But this is a different level of hate. It evoked some real visceral, loud reactions, the kind that I had during The Lovely Bones, but while that movie made me really uncomfortable, I couldn’t stop watching this one. I reveled in hating it. It was compellingly awful. And if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to forgo the usual structure of these posts, and just talk about everything that happens in this movie that leads up to the sad stuff, because it’s all just so ridiculous. And you know how thirty seconds ago I said I reserved the right to bash Miley if she sucked? It's a good thing I reserved that right, because I intend to use it LIBERALLY.
The first thing you need to know is that Miley’s character’s name is Ronnie, short for Veronica. (This brought me endless joy, as I imagined how Jersey Shore Ronnie would behave throughout the film. My conclusions: a lot more drinking, a lot more yelling, a lot more fighting, but strangely, the same amount of crying.) It opens with Ronnie and her brother being driven to somewhere in Georgia to spend the summer with their dad (a very likeable Greg Kinnear), who up and left their mom (Kelly Preston) three years earlier. Ronnie totally hates her dad and the fact that she has to be there, and she’s not afraid to show it, either, because she is REBELLIOUS and EDGY and an OUTSIDER. (My limited knowledge of the Miley oeuvre leads me to believe that outsiderdom is central to her iconography. “Party in the USA” is entirely about how out of place she is in LA. While it should be well-known by now how much I love that song, the lyrics are really really insufferable. Because it’s not like she’s singing about a character. She’s singing about how she moved from Nashville to LA and felt out of place. She’s been an uber-famous gazillionaire since she was like 14, and she’s worried about how she’s wearing different SHOES than everyone else. As if [a] anyone would ever look at her and say, “who’s that chick who’s rockin’ kicks?” and then derisively conclude that she must be from out of town [as if anyone is actually FROM Los Angeles in the first place]. And then [b] as if people wouldn’t be like, “oh shit it’s Miley Cyrus, look at her sweet kicks!” and then go out and buy them. Yeah okay MILEY. The outsiderdom is annoying in this movie, too, for different reasons. We’ll get to that.)
We learn from her parents’ conversation that Ronnie is a piano prodigy. (I think they show a news clipping indicating that she performed at Carnegie Hall when she was seven. Because that happens.) In keeping with her rebelliousness, she quit playing the day her father left (three years earlier, mind you) and hasn’t played since. (Her mom’s new boyfriend bought her “an electric piano,” but she wouldn’t touch that, either. Symbolic!) However, Preston informs Kinnear that she’s been accepted to the Julliard School. DESPITE NOT HAVING TOUCHED A PIANO IN THREE YEARS. (Also despite the fact that “she barely graduated from high school” and was arrested for shoplifting. But of course Ronnie doesn't want to go, because that would be too NORMAL.) Kinnear inquires as to HOW THAT IS AT ALL POSSIBLE, and Preston says, “they said they’d been watching her since she was five.” Which (a) is creepy, and (b) WHAT. That is not a thing. Presumably they would have also been watching her NOT PLAY FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS. You figure the Julliard talent scout or whoever that was assigned to her would have reported back to the dean and said, “Yeah that Ronnie chick was great when she was five, but I haven’t seen her near a piano in three years. Not even that electric one!”
Meanwhile, Ronnie heads to the beach and gets a strawberry shake spilled on her by some volleyball HUNK who wears a vaguely creepy smile in lieu of a shirt. She acts all outsidery and sarcastic, which of course only makes Smiley McNoshirt more interested, because he can sense, instantly, that she’s “not like the other girls.” (This is actually what he says to her after somewhat rapily kissing her for the first time.) It’s important to note how the filmmakers choose to portray this trait.
Aspects Of Ronnie’s Personality That Are Supposed To Indicate To The Audience That She Is An Outsider
1) She has dark hair. All the other biddies on the beach, including her main antagonist, who is in like two scenes, have blond hair. Classic.
2) She is a vegetarian. Yeah, she would be.
3) She is concerned about sea turtles. This is a major plotline. She sees a raccoon going after a nest of sea turtle eggs. Naturally she’s horrified by this, and sets about to construct an enclosure (i.e., an overturned shopping cart) and stand guard by it all night long. Kinnear comes out and, bemused, asks her what she’s doing, and she angrily explains about how when a female lays eggs, the raccoons can smell them and etc. So she’s got some background in sea turtles. But then Shirtless comes by, because he just so happens to volunteer at the aquarium, and tells her that he has to build a different sort of enclosure, because the shopping cart will prevent the newly hatched turtles from getting to the sea after they’re born. Apparently she didn’t know this fact, only the ONE THING THAT EVERYONE KNOWS ABOUT SEA TURTLES, the thing that everyone gets taught about in elementary school science class. But maybe Ronnie was off shoplifting that day and came back just in time for Sea Turtles 102.
4) She reads Tolstoy. Specifically Anna Karenina, while keeping watch by the sea turtles. And she’s unimpressed when Shirtless recites the first line from memory, which is actually decently impressive for some beach-bum volleyball doofus. (The issue of how she treats him, and his reaction to her treatment of him, for the first half hour of the movie prompted another digression that I cut out for space. That is the first time that I have EVER done that for this blog. Suffice it to say I found it somewhat unrealistic.) But yeah she just LOVES Tolstoy, because he writes about unhappy families and she can totes relate. I was half-expecting the sad part of this movie (which at this point was still totally unclear to me) to be her throwing herself in front of a train. REFERENCE.
Aspect Of Ronnie’s Personality That Is Unspeakably Hilarious After The Information Contained In The Previous List Has Been Established
1) She loves Maroon 5. I had to pause the movie, I was laughing so hard at this part. So after she gives in and they start their summer fling (as depicted in a montage that contains two other ridiculous things that I will talk about in a bit), they’re driving along in his car and the song “She Will Be Loved” by Maroon 5 comes on. And she goes, “I love this song,” and starts singing along. Just so perfect.
The Two Other Ridiculous Things From That Montage That I Alluded To In The Previous List
1) He writes the word “forever” on her shoe with a Sharpie. Which seems a bit redundant.
2) They break any number of safety regulations at the local aquarium. Remember how he volunteers there? As an 18-year-old volunteer, he is apparently entitled to wear SCUBA gear and swim around in the tank with all the fish. Including a SHARK. They let volunteers into the tank to hang out with the shark. And not just volunteers: THEIR IDIOT GIRLFRIENDS TOO. First he pulls her when she’s not wearing the gear for a laugh, and that's ADORABLE and not at all stupid. And then she gets gear of her own (they’ve got a lot of this SCUBA gear lying around) and goes for a planned swim. Aren’t there professionals who go through extensive training to be able to do this? Isn’t it dangerous for non-trained humans to swim around in aquariums with fish of any sort, LET ALONE SHARKS? HOW IS THIS ALLOWED.
OK enough lists. The rest of the movie is less exciting. There’s some standard Sparks class warfare (he’s rich, and his parents are the most stereotypically obnoxious rich parents I have EVER seen in a movie). Other angst happens too; his brother died in a car accident a year earlier. After hearing this, Ronnie is so moved that she throws all his stuff out of their room, calls him the c-word and breaks his glasses. Whoops, wrong Ronnie. No, Miley Ronnie goes inside and plays the piano for the first time in three years, and then they wordlessly and dramatically kiss. I’m not a man to hyperbolize, but that scene might have been my least favorite scene in the history of cinema. Dear Lord.
Before I get to the sad stuff, I want to talk about Miley’s face. She has to register a lot of emotions in this film, and she tries really really hard to reflect all of them. The face I like best is when she’s displeased about something. It looks like she’s just smelled something terrible. She has this face on for pretty much the entire first half hour of the movie. Then she has her goofy in love with Shirtless face, which is similarly off-putting. And then she gets concerned about the sad stuff, and that’s also gross. This is not to mention her growly throaty weird voice. Every two seconds throughout this movie, I said (aloud) either, “Ughhhhh her VOICE,” or “Ughhhhh her FACE.”
(SPOILER ALERT if any of you care about what the sad stuff is.) So we learn that Kinnear has cancer. At first, Ronnie yells at him because he concealed his illness from her. (I really can’t believe the number of times that people who have cancer get YELLED AT by other people in all these movies. How is this a thing!) Then there’s a lot of drama about this church fire and stuff I didn’t care about, and Ronnie gets mad at Shirtless and he leaves, and she stays in Georgia with her father who she formerly hated. It doesn’t get any better during this part. It’s still really dumb, and the dialogue sucks, and Ronnie is still kind of a terrible person because of how mean she was to her dad earlier in the film, and the movie has to kind of acknowledge that but also forgive her for it. This sentiment is conveyed when she expresses remorse for how she treated him, and Kinnear says, “At least you have the courage to feel.” Which is really not saying much. Seems like pretty basic stuff, feeling. It’s one step above, “At least you have the courage to breathe.” And then he dies, and she plays the piano at his funeral and Shirtless comes to the funeral (wearing a shirt) and they make up/out. End of film.
How I felt after the movie ended: I mean obviously I took careful notes about all the nonsense that happens in the movie. But that’s not what this blog is about. I must address whether or not the movie is sad. And I know I’ve just spent the last 8,000 words ridiculing this movie, and rightly so. But it was still kinda sad. Greg Kinnear is a good actor. (Watching him act with Miley is like me trying to fight Jersey Shore Ronnie. No chance.) It’s like, let’s say there’s someone you know who you kind of hate, because she's annoying and has a gross throaty voice and a weird face, and she pretends she's all edgy but actually likes Maroon 5. It would still be sad if her dad got cancer and died. Even if she was the worst actress of all time.