Actress/musician and teen-sensation Miley Cyrus busted onto the scene several years ago with her hit Disney Channel series, "Hannah Montana" and since then has become a international phenomenon with her countless hit albums and concert tours. She has even found some success on the big screen with her concert film, "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best Of Both Worlds Concert," "Hannah Montana: The Movie" and with the animated Disney film "Bolt." But the question remains, will she be able to carry her success past her own "Hannah Montana" persona and actually act in a role in a serious film that is not a comedy, a musical or an animated movie? If her new film, The Last Song is any indication then the answer is probably yes. In the film, based on the forthcoming novel by "The Notebook" author Nicolas Sparks, Cyrus gives a strong, mature and emotional performance and does a fine job holding her own against veteran actress Kelly Preston and former Oscar Nominee Greg Kinnear.
The Last Song is an important film for Cyrus if she ever wants to move past her teen image and have a career after her Disney channel days are over. As we've seen in the case of Hillary Duff, that's not always easy. For every Shia LaBeouf there is a Raven-Symone, so it can be tricky waters to navigate and I think this was a smart film for her to make at this time. Cyrus is now seventeen and her audience is maturing just like she is so it's only natural that she and they would want to see more adult films that deal with issues that teenage girls (post the tween stage) would be interested in. Enter Nicholas Sparks; his material is tailor made for this audience as demonstrated with the incredible success of his adapted films "The Notebook" and more recently "Dear John." While the author has written several books featuring older characters he seems to have a knack for hitting just the right tone with young love stories and that is no different here. It's almost a no-brainer for Cyrus to do a Nicholas Sparks film and her role here fits her like a glove. It is the perfect marriage of material and artist.
The movie begins by introducing us to Ronnie (Cyrus), a seventeen year-old girl from New York who is rebellious and angry over her parents divorce nearly three years earlier. She is a former piano prodigy but lost interest after her father left and she became a teenager, more interested in boys, hanging with her friends and getting in trouble. Ronnie has even been accepted to Julliard but has declined the offer. After High School graduation Ronnie's mother (Kelly Preston) forces her and her little brother to go live with their father in Georgia. Steve (Greg Kinnear) moved back to the town where he grew up after his divorce from Ronnie's mom. He is a former concert pianist and Julliard professor himself but now stays at home and works on rebuilding a stain glass window from the local church that was destroyed in a fire he believes he was responsible for. Upon arrival, Ronnie does not fit in with the upper-class local kids and gravitates towards the wrong crowd by befriending a girl named Blaze (Carly Chaikin). Ronnie, who had been arrested for shoplifting in New York, is ultimately framed for shoplifting in Georgia by Blaze because she is jealous that her boyfriend might like Ronnie. Once cleared of all chargers, Ronnie no longer wants to be friends with Blaze.
Feeling all alone and unwanted Ronnie focuses her attention on a small group of endangered turtle eggs that are ready to hatch near her father's house. Unbeknownst to her, she has also caught the eye of a handsome young Volley Ball player from the beach named Will (Liam Hemsworth). She ignores his advances thinking that he is some dumb jock but is surprised to find that he is just the opposite when she calls the humane society to help with the turtles and he arrives. Eventually Ronnie lets down her guard and the two fall in love but trouble occurs when he invites her into his upper-class world and she doesn't mix well with his friends and family. Things get worse when Ronnie becomes aware of a secret that Will has been keeping that affects her father's reputation and the truth about the church fire. No longer wanting anything to do with Will, Ronnie is devastated when she discovers a secret that he father has been keeping that will change their relationship forever. Rather than going back to school, Ronnie chooses to stay with her father and in the process grows closer to him and gets her love for music back. In the aftermath of great personal tragedy it's up to Ronnie to decide if she is ready to give Will and love one more chance.
Like all Nicholas Sparks adapted movies, The Last Song does have a certain amount of cheese to it but his stories always have universal themes that we can all relate to like young love, parent/children relationships, death and growing-up. This film is no different and Cyrus fills out the role of Ronnie well. While there is a good amount of "Miley" in the role the actress does an excellent job of playing a character and is able to find her own voice in the part. Kelly Preston is wonderful in every scene she is in and makes me wish that the actress would work more. Liam Hemsworth does a fine job of playing the underwritten male love-interest role and does his best with the part. But along with Cyrus, it is one time Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear that makes the film worth seeing. The former talk show host has been giving excellent, heartfelt performances in films for years now since his breakout role over a decade ago in "As Good As It Gets" but this film really gives the actor a chance to showcase all his talents, both in comedy and drama. In the end, The Last Song isn't an Earth-shattering film and it won't change the way you view the world but for fans of Nicholas Sparks' novels and films you will be satisfied with an entertaining story and decent performances. I also think that Miley Cyrus' fans will be very happy with her strong performance in this mature film. She isn't a great actress, yet, but she does show signs of potential and this film is a good first step towards that ultimate goal.