The Last Song is a Nicholas Sparks story, which tells you several key things about the film: Two unlikely people will fall in love. Someone will heal from a past hurt. A key character will die. And this will all transpire in a lovely waterfront locale. (See The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, and Dear John for previous examples.)
In The Last Song, the locale is a small Southern beach town, where divorced single mom Kim Miller (Kelly Preston) is dropping off her two kids at dad Steve's (Greg Kinnear) place for the summer. The kids are Ronnie (Miley Cyrus), an angry and rebellious recent high school grad, and Jonah (Bobby Coleman), her happy and quirky little brother.
While Jonah is thrilled to spend a summer with his dad exploring the beach, flying kites, and building a stained glass window together, Ronnie is angry that she's been torn from her home in New York City and forced to spend a summer with her estranged father. While she feels he "bailed" on the family when her parents split, she in turn has bailed on their shared love of the piano. Once on track to attend Julliard, Ronnie is now set on a music-less future adrift in her personal sea of teenage angst.
When Ronnie meets a fellow black-clad, pierced girl with the lovely nickname Blaze (Carly Chaikin), she begins to think the summer just might be bearable. They hang out sharing sullen looks at the Shiny, Happy Beach People and stay out late with Blaze's scum of a boyfriend. All the while Steve and Jonah enjoy their Summer of Americana Fun.
But then Ronnie warms to the advances of Will (Liam Hemsworth), the beach volleyball-playing mechanic she initially despised for being too hunky and happy. When Ronnie's aversion finally turns to adoration, they share the rest of the summer seemingly posing for Norman Rockwell paintings—singing in Will's pickup together, lazing in the sun on the pier together, carving their initials in a tree together, guarding the batch of sea turtle eggs they find behind her dad's house. Together. It's all very sweet and chaste and sickening (if you're under the age of 17 you can probably drop that last adjective).
When we're not watching scenes straight from the Teenage Love Story Playbook, we catch glimpses of a slow and silent truce between Ronnie and her dad, Steve. Filled with the joy of first love, Ronnie can't really stay mad at her patient and longsuffering father. They begin chatting, and playing the piano together, and finally discussing old family wounds.
Ronnie and Steve's relationship is by far the most compelling part of the film. All other clichÉs and familiar plot lines aside, watching these two finally forgive each other and reconnect is nice. It's done in believable fits and starts, and they eventually build what seems to be a genuine friendship. All snarky comments aside, it is somewhat refreshing that Sparks continually delivers themes of forgiveness and redemption—offering inspiration in an industry awash in horror, bathroom humor, and Big Statement Movies.