Don't think of "The Last Song" as a Miley Cyrus movie. Think of it as a Nicholas Sparks chick flick.
He's the novelist/screenwriter who has given us "The Notebook" and "Dear John," among others. So you won't be surprised that "The Last Song," written expressly for Miley, features young love, divorce, a terminal illness, reconciliation and a wedding. In other words, this movie is so sentimental that you'll need a hanky -- or a package of Kleenex if you're a teen girl.
Teen girls are the target audience for "The Last Song" because they grew up with its star, Miley Cyrus, on Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana," and they like seeing shirtless stud muffins playing beach volleyball. They'll dig the story lines, too, involving a just-graduated-from-high-school girl's relationships with a dreamy boy who has depth, a distant dad who is artistic and witty, and a little brother who is helpful and lovable.
Ronnie (Cyrus) and Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are driven by their mom (Kelly Preston) from New York to spend the summer at their dad's rustic-chic cabin on a ritzy island off Georgia. Ronnie, a piano prodigy, has never forgiven her composer dad (Greg Kinnear) for leaving the family; in fact, she hasn't touched a piano since his departure a few years ago but an unwanted scholarship to Juilliard is awaiting her.
First-time director Julie Ann Robinson gives us Miley as a rebellious, skanky-haired, nose-ring-wearing, pouting cliché. Soon after arriving on the island, the New York teen falls in with some outsider ne'er-do-wells before reluctantly falling for Will (Liam Hemsworth), a hunky blueblood who can quote Tolstoy in two languages and tune up his pickup truck, too.
Their summer love has its ups and downs, mirroring her situation with her dad. With a piano as the peacemaker, Ronnie and her father reconcile and suddenly her nose ring disappears and her hair looks salon-styled.
In interviews to promote this movie, Miley has stressed that she is planning to take a break from music and concentrate on acting. On the big screen, just as on TV, her smile works better than her pout (why do you think her dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, dubbed her Smiley Miley?). She's believable as Ronnie partly because she, too, is 17 and at a crossroads in her life. (Can you say "Goodbye Hannah Montana"?) Still, it's not likely that "The Last Song" will do for Miley's dramatic career what Sparks' "A Walk to Remember" did for teen pop star turned actress Mandy Moore in 2002.
Miley fans should not let the title of "The Last Song" lead you to think she sings in this movie. Her only warbling is to harmonize with Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved" on the radio while riding in Will's truck. She does, however, contribute a couple of numbers to the soundtrack.
The most memorable acting is by Coleman, 12, a veteran of a dozen films. He's not the usual cute-as-a-button little dude, but, like the kid brother in "The Blind Side," he gets a lot of great lines and delivers them with aplomb. As the father, Kinnear has a certain absent-minded charm, though he looks more and more like Hugh Laurie of TV's "House" as this movie plays out.
The hopelessly handsome Hemsworth simply seems to be auditioning for the role of a young Matthew McConaughey. But offscreen he got the girl, too -- Miley, that is -- so you could say that he has the best of both worlds.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719