The Last Song

The movie illustrates what's so frustrating about the industry: devotion to repetition rather than innovation, to profits as a measure of success, and to crossover product management as the means to that success.

The Last Song

Director: Julie Anne Robinson
Cast: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston
Rated: R
Studio: Touchstone
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-03-31 (General release)

Word is that Nicholas Sparks wrote The Last Song for Miley Cyrus -- who is really, really serious about quitting music to pursue a career in movies. This seems a sound professional move (no one can be Hannah Montana forever, after all). But based on the evidence of this film, it needs more serious deliberation.

Cyrus has a number of obstacles to overcome here, not least being Sparks' grinding story formula, in which lonely, wounded, and definitively pretty people meet on a beach, discover true love and endure a life-changing death. In this version, Cyrus plays Ronnie, a teenager who performs her rebellious misery by wearing black lace-up boots, torn pantyhose, and blue fingernails. As the movie begins, Ronnie's mother Kim (Kelly Preston) is driving her and adorable little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) to the beach. More specifically, they're headed for a summer's visit with their estranged father Steve (Greg Kinnear), who lives in a perfect cottage on the sunny shore in Georgia. '"Promise me you'll make an effort," says mom as she drops off the kids. Not even.

Ronnie's mad at lots of things, apparently, but most immediately her father's absence. Not understanding how he could have walked out on the family, she's not inclined to hear how he and Kim learned the hard way that sometimes, "love isn't enough." (It's just as well this backstory stops here, with this treacly bit of explanation.) Ronnie isn't actually mean, of course, or even selfish per se. She's just damaged by her parents' divorce, disappointed by broken promises, and unable to tolerate adults' foibles.

Ronnie's glowering and slouching are standard signs of her adolescent displeasure, as is her arrest for shoplifting (this last making her now "untrustworthy" in her parents' eyes). But the primary sign of her pain is more particular, that is, her decision to stop playing piano. Not only does this plot point lead directly to the film's excruciating title (see also: that inevitable death of a loved one), but it also shows just how angry she is, that she would cut off her nose, as it were, to spite her face. A childhood prodigy who spent long hours playing piano with her songwriter/artist father, Ronnie now refuses even to touch the keys, much less go to Juilliard, where she has been accepted despite her recent best efforts to sabotage her grades. (When she does play the piano -- as she must -- Ronnie's hands are never in the same shot as her swaying body or impassioned face, suggesting that Cyrus never quite mastered the instrument for this part.) Ronnie's refusal to play is apparently a loss to mankind, though her dad tends to point out her self-inflicted suffering sans music. Someday, he promises, she'll play again.

The route to this recovery has to do with dad, of course, but it also has to do with an eye-opening, grandly passionate romance, rendered in . Ronnie and her object, Will (Liam Hemsworth) meet very cute on the beach, when he slams into her and knocks her strawberry milkshake all over her t-shirt. The other local kids -- blond, tanned, and, in the girls' cases, bikinied -- predictably scorn the newcomer, but Will, extra-blond and extra-tanned, as well as (bonus points!) tall and athletic, decides on the spot that he loves her. A beach volleyball player who works part time as a mechanic and volunteers at the local aquarium, he spends his spare time convincing Ronnie of their perfect chemistry and long-term future.

Will's labors will be rewarded, though he faces the usual sorts of hurdles, including class differences, secret pasts, his white-boy bully buddies, her dramatics, not to mention the requisite montage sequences, which Julie Anne Robinson's movie piles on mercilessly -- in the rain and in the water, driving and running, laughing and kissing. He's especially keen on Ronnie's interest in a nest of turtle's eggs, which she sets out to protect from raccoons, and her not-quite suppressed musical talents (when he hears her singing along with the car radio, boyfriend is astounded: "You can really sing!"). And let's not even start on the fact that she's impressed that he can recite the first line of Anna Karenina.

The Sparksian formula being what it is, none of these elements is surprising. That Cyrus selected this formula as her pronouncement of grown-upness and dedication to cinema doesn't bode so well. Or rather, it underlines what's perennially frustrating about the industry: devotion to repetition rather than innovation, to profits as a measure of success, and to crossover product management as a means to that success. None of these strategies indicates respect for viewers. That the formula is now -- with Dear John and The Last Song -- being aimed at young consumers as well as their mothers (the presumed Nights in Rodanthe demo), is not a little dispiriting.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.