The two most memorable movies from my high school years were Napoleon Dynamite and A Walk to Remember. For my hometown buds, growing up in the Wheatroit in the early 2000s, you got my back. Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is the best comedy ever, and I still regularly watch it. OTOH, A Walk to Remember (2002) is a Nicholas Sparks’ movie so cheese that guys everywhere pretended they didn’t like it. I mocked it to my sister, but then watched it at a sleepover with my buds. The premise (rebel guy falls in love with outcast minister’s daughter but she’s terminal) is so transparently sentimental it tugs even the tightest heartstrings. And its soundtrack was boss. It featured “Dare You to Move,” “Learning to Breathe,” and marked Switchfoot’s breakthrough from the Christian arena to the “secular.” It launched Mandy Moore’s career, who both sang and starred in the movie. This is the song you remember with sing-along script, so go ahead and belt it.
Mandy Moore was 18 when A Walk to Remember dropped, her big acting debut after releasing three pop albums. Since then, she’s had a wildly successful career. She’s dropped three more albums and starred in 21 movies and numerous TV shows. Her highest points are all her songs in Tangled (her top songs on Spotify are from A Walk to Remember and Tangled) and winning over viewers across America as the matriarch in This is Us. Think about that, in 14 years–from age 18 to 32–Mandy went from playing high school sweetheart to family matriarch. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s engaged to Taylor Goldsmith of the phenomenal band Dawes. Yeah, she’s crushed it.
Now flash forward from 2002 to 2010. Nicholas Sparks is making another movie to launch another teen musician’s acting career. The movie, The Last Song, is produced by Adam Shankman, director or A Walk to Remember, and features Miley Cyrus, fresh off her six years on Hannah Montana. In the verified words of wikipedia, Miley was “hoping to foster a more mature image” with this film role. What could go wrong?
Oh yeah, that.
Making her film directorial debut, Julie Ann Robinson received a dumpster fire script from Nicholas Sparks. Sparks’ career is basically one big experiment in writing books & scripts that pinball between big, disconnected, emotional events without any character development. The Last Song is no exception, so let’s dig in.
The main characters are:
- Miley Cyrus, high school senior in search of herself
- Greg Kinnear, her dad
- Bobby Coleman, her little brother
- Liam Hemsworth, her movie turned real-life love interest
- Galadriel, nickname Blaze, her friend-in-need
I use actor names instead of character names, except for Galadriel/Blaze. I feel Sparks was really trying to make a name this stupid, so credit where credit is due.
The movie opens with Greg being rescued from a burning church. Time passes and Greg’s kids, Miley and Bobby, are dropped off to stay at his house for the summer (it’s on the beach). Greg has no job, but writes piano songs and works on a new stained-glass window for the church. Bobby loves his dad, and joins him on the window project.
Miley is in a rebel phase, angry that her dad left the family (for unmentioned reasons). She refuses to attend Juilliard to study music and once shoplifted (such a rebel). Note, my wife observed that Miley somehow met all these rigorous admissions criteria only to refuse admission. At Greg’s house, she immediately leaves to explore the beach, where she meets Blaze and Liam. She returns home after fighting off an unwanted sexual advance by Blaze’s boyfriend.
The next day, Miley discovers an abandoned sea turtle nest with eggs being attacked by raccoons. She calls the aquarium and the volunteer that comes is (surprise, surprise) Liam. He helps her guard the nest overnight.
The next morning, Liam takes her on a date to the aquarium where he flirts with her while in scuba gear in the main tank. Then his ex-girlfriend tells Miley that Liam takes lots of girls on the same date. She gets angry at Liam, but he smooths things over by telling her she’s not like the other girls and kissing her. Note, nothing changes about his character.
Miley and Liam go on more dates, and he brings her to meet his parents. They mention that Liam’s sister’s getting married and that Liam’s ex is attending. Miley once again storms off, but Liam smooths it over by telling her that his brother died in a car accident while the two were playing “mercy” in the backseat. Note, no high-schooler still plays mercy and nothing changes about his character. Miley shows Liam her piano skills.
Liam plays beach volleyball, and Miley brings Greg to one of his games. Rumors circulate in the stands that Greg burned the church down. Liam later tells his volleyball partner to confess, since he’s the one that burned the church. Note, this plot point is wildly unnecessary.
While buying a dress for Liam’s sister’s wedding, Miley sees Blaze being physically abused by her boyfriend who’s extorting money. Inexplicably, Miley gives Blaze money. Note, IRL this would enable the destructive relationship but, in Sparks’ world, Blaze leaves her boyfriend.
Miley goes to the wedding and dances with Liam. The wedding is interrupted by Blaze’s boyfriend who wants her back. Liam and boyfriend fight, and Liam is asked to leave the wedding. He & Miley return to the beach house, where the baby turtles are hatching! The whole family watches, before Greg collapses on the beach. Turns out he has cancer, and it’s terminal. Note, someone always dies in Nicholas Sparks stories.
The rest of the movie is Miley reconciling with Greg, as she lives with him until he dies. Liam’s friend confesses starting the church fire to Greg, but Miley gets angry that Liam knew before and didn’t say anything. So they break up. Note, this is a shameless plot device to remove Liam so Greg and Miley get more screen time. There’s 15ish minutes of quality bonding, then Greg dies. Miley finishes the “last song” he was working on and plays it at his funeral. Miley decides to go to Juilliard and gets back with Liam. The end.
- Miley is an absolutely terrible actress. The script has her rapidly shift from flirty/playful to unreasonably angry, but she’s not good at either.
- The script is filled with groanworthy lines. Here’s maybe my favorite:
Liam: Happy families are alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Miley: Is quoting Tolstoy supposed to impress me?
Liam: I wasn’t quoting Tolstoy, I was quoting his translator.
That’s why Sparks is paid the big bucks.
- My coworker shared why Sparks is successful. True, his characters are shallow, affluent, and white. But the cinematography/scenery and sheer number of emotional events will result in tears. They’re a drug you can’t quit. Aight, I hear you.
Greg v Billy
Greg is by far the best actor/actress in The Last Song. As this article states, “watch The Last Song just because he deigned to grace the film with his presence.” Greg was made for cheese. He forms a dynamite duo with his movie son, who are legit cute as they spy on Miley’s budding relationship. His fake smile in the trailer is dope. And he kills every line-reading he gets. Just imagine GK reading these glorious lines:
“Love is fragile. And we’re not always its best caretakers. We just muddle through and do the best we can. And hope this fragile thing survives against all odds.”
“Sometimes you have to be apart from the people you love, but that doesn’t make you love them less. Sometimes it makes you love them more.”
Get it, Greg. I was prepared to melt into a ball of tears when Greg died, but I didn’t. Jobless and unnecessarily estranged, there was no depth to his character and no tears from me.
Reading between the lines, Greg probably took this role to work with Miley and be seen as a rock star in his own daughters’ eyes. Like when his vocal track was in a Rihanna song. With the way my mind works, this generated the question: Would Greg have been a better real-life father to Miley than Billy Ray? We all know what Miley became in the years after The Last Song: twerking, tattoos, pop culture trash. [But she did record “Party in the USA” and this song about the death of her pet blowfish, which my summer intern showed me.]
Looking at the evidence in The Last Song, the answer is probably not. Greg has two scenes where he actually parents Miley, and they’re not great. In the first, he comes down to the beach where Liam and Miley are camped out, in order to set boundaries. He wordlessly moves their lawn chairs farther apart and draws a line in the sand with his foot. Funny (perhaps), but this isn’t real boundary-setting. In the second, he drops Miley off at the wedding and has this exchange with Liam:
Greg: Hey, no funny business.
Liam: I don’t think you can actually try funny business at a wedding, sir.
Greg: You can definitely try funny business at a wedding…I’ve done it.
Liam. I see…Kind of makes this a mixed message, then.
What is Greg even saying here? Questionably, Greg fully approved of Miley & Liam’s summer fling, straight up calling it love and dropping those two cheese quotes on love’s fragility and distance. So, yeah, he probably wouldn’t have parented any better than Billy. But it couldn’t have been worse!
- A Walk to Remember helped launch Mandy Moore’s accomplished and respectable career. This magic ran out when it came to Miley Cyrus and The Last Song.
- Nicholas Sparks’ writing lacks any character depth, but hits all the emotional beats. If this is your jam, so is The Last Song (and its insane plot)!
- Hands down, Greg Kinnear was the best part of The Last Song. If only he didn’t give such lousy parenting advice.
- Next up: A very special post! My lips are sealed, but it won’t be a new movie review. Will it be an interview with Greg?!
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