Combine a teenage summer romance with a sick parent, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a typical, but engrossing Nicholas Sparks novel. Sadly, the movie doesn’t live up to its literary predecessor.
The Last Song tells the story of a recent high school graduate, Ronnie, who leaves New York City for North Carolina to spend the summer with the father she hasn’t seen since her parents divorced a few years earlier. Her summer of angst quickly turns into one of love, though Ronnie continues to deal with her troubled past — at least in the novel.
In the book version of The Last Song, Ronnie gets framed for shoplifting by a spiteful girl named Blaze. While she spends the majority of her summer falling in love with the perfect, popular and wealthy Will, she also works to clean up her mess, making court appearances and meeting with her lawyer until Blaze finally confesses. Most of this is completely cut from the movie. In the movie version, Blaze does set Ronnie up, and Ronnie gets caught. But in an obvious and lazy case of deus ex machina, Ronnie learns that her dad is friends with the store owner and will take care of it. The problem is never mentioned again throughout the movie. I couldn’t believe that the shoplifting subplot was virtually cut. It was a large part of the book and helps to emphasize Ronnie’s past as she moves toward her future. Not to mention, the movie’s handling of the storyline seemed very abrupt.
Much of the rest of the movie only loosely follows the book. All of the overall outcomes are the same, but many of the details and means to the end are different. Even the end is different; there’s still a happy ending for the two young lovebirds, but the way it’s revealed does not follow the novel.
The rest of the movie worked for the most part. I had a difficult time seeing Miley Cyrus as “Ronnie” and not Miley Cyrus, but her acting chops were decent, and her chemistry with real-life and onscreen boyfriend Liam Hemsworth was undeniable. However, there were times where I found myself thinking I was watching the movie more for the chemistry between the two leads than for the story itself (similar to the way people watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith after Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt started dating; they wanted to see “how it all started.”)
Greg Kinnear was moving as Ronnie’s sick father, and I cried at the end, like a chick flick fan should. I have to hand it for Nicholas Sparks for always managing to suck me in, but that doesn’t mean that the movie necessarily lived up to the book.