The summer after senior year of high school is an emotional storm for a lot of teenagers, but for Ronnie Miller it’s a full scale hurricane. Against her will she’s sent with her younger brother (Bobby Coleman) to spend the summer with their father (Greg Kinnear) at his beach house in a small, gossipy Southern town. It’s the perfect setting for a coming of age crisis, complete with everything an angsty, hormone-laden teen soap opera needs to survive: a beach full of guys with perfect smiles and six pack abs playing volleyball, a bleacher full of back stabbing girls drooling over them, and a small pack of dope-smoking social rejects ready to cause trouble at a moment’s notice.
Like most hurricanes, the summer begins as a brooding tropical depression. Newcomer Ronnie sifts through the emo kids, beach brats and Barbie dolls in an effort to figure out who she can trust, all the while sending her father strong signals that she’s still angry he walked out on the family. The role is a good fit for teen star Miley Cyrus, giving her a chance to play to the audience that grew up watching her TV show but who have since graduated to a steady diet of Gossip Girl and Twilight. After a bumpy start Ronnie finally settles into the arms of beach volleyball champion and general town stud Will Blakelee, played by heir apparent to Channing Tatum’s shirtless heart-throb title, Liam Hemsworth. A copious make-out montage ensues.
The first hour of the movie drags on with similar teen drivel that’s as predictable as it is unwatchable. Meanwhile Ronnie’s father, a musician and artist, focuses his energies spending time with Ronnie’s younger brother and working on a piece of piano music that he can’t seem to finish. As the father Kinnear is stuck playing comic relief during the movie’s painfully dull first half, but there’s something subtle in the actor’s eyes and his performance that suggests something deeper is going on.
The movie upgrades from tropical depression to hurricane almost instantly when, one night towards the end of the summer, Ronnie’s father collapses on the beach. He’s rushed to the hospital where Ronnie learns he has terminal cancer and has been foregoing treatment to spend what might be his final summer with his children. With that simple revelation the teen summer romance flick dissolves into a teary tragic drama.
Perhaps attempting to overcompensate for its ridiculous first half, the movie goes overboard launching assault after assault of worn-out emotional clichés at gale force speed. The outpouring is so heavy that at one point Ronnie seems to go through all five stages of grief in a single scene. What could have become a solid ending to shaky story is washed away in a flood of tears and a series of scenes designed to make you cry instead of make you care.
There’s a wonderful story hidden somewhere deep within The Last Song. It’s called Life As A House and it was a great movie when Kevin Cline and Kristin Scott Thomas made it almost ten years ago. But anything that made that story worth watching in this PG version has been drowned out in the movie’s wash of hormones and tears. Whatever might have made Nicholas Spark’s (of The Notebook fame) novel a success has been lost in an attempt to make a movie teenagers will swarm over. The mid-stream Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde act doesn’t help either. One thing is for certain: whether it’s because the movie is so bad, or so sad, Hurricane Ronnie will have you in tears.