Sunday, April 11, 2010

In Which Trai Reviews 'The Last Song: The Movie'

** This review contains spoilers for both the film and the book. **

Sorry I've been scarce this week, everyone. I've been a bit busy. But I finally got to go see The Last Song yesterday and thought I'd post my dissection here. My review of the book can be found here.

Okay, so, basic plot: Ronnie Miller (Miley Cyrus) and her little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are spending the summer with their father Steve (Greg Kinnear) in Georgia. (In the book, it's Wilmington, NC, which I actually liked a little better because that's where One Tree Hill is filmed, so it was funny to picture the book taking place in Tree Hill. Still, though, the movie was filmed on Tybee Island and the beach is gorgeous.) Ronnie is a talented piano player, but has refused to play since her father left the family.

Ronnie is extremely resentful towards her father and refuses to open the letters he sends her. She blames him for leaving her and Jonah's mother, believing he is the reason the marriage failed. Jonah and Steve bond while Ronnie tries to avoid them. She soon finds one person she can't avoid-- Will Blakelee, a local boy who's determined to win her heart. Ronnie and Will begin a summer romance, and Ronnie gradually begins to open up to her father.

So I don't quite know if one can call The Last Song an adaptation, as Sparks wrote the screenplay first and then the book. I think that was my big problem with it-- the book had a very developed story, and while I was watching the movie, I felt like the book is what the movie could have been. The book seems like he looked at the screenplay and thought, "Oh, I could have done that better; let's try this..."

I was worried about how Miley Cyrus would handle the role of Ronnie, but I have to say she did well. I was pretty unconvinced by her attempt at being snarky and resentful in the beginning, especially to Will, but I enjoyed the one-liners more as time went on. (A personal favorite of mine, because I can relate, is when Will finds her after she has slept outside all night to protect the sea turtle nest. "Did you sleep out here all night?" he asks, and Ronnie snaps, "No, my hair looks like this all by itself!") She came off like a great big sister to Jonah, and she worked well with Greg Kinnear (especially in the more emotional scenes) and Liam Hemsworth (with whom she made a good couple).

Bobby Coleman was great for a child actor, and one of his scenes probably made me cry the most. I saw the movie with my mom, stepdad, and roommate, and my mom and I agreed that the movie wouldn't have worked without Greg Kinnear as Steve. He was perfect as a father who just wants to reconnect with his daughter. My favorite scene of his is when he's watching Ronnie and Will sitting close together as they watch over the loggerhead turtle nest. He comes down, silently moves Will's chair a good few feet away from Ronnie's, draws a line in the sand, and looks at Will. Will replies he understands.

I have to say, the film did end up doing a very good job of carrying the emotions over from page to screen. Spoilers ahead: the reason Dear John and The Last Song both got to me was because they both had fathers who die, like mine did when I was little. So for a good twenty minutes in this one, I was crying. The most painful scene to watch, for me, was when Jonah is trying to finish the stained glass window he and Steve were making by himself, and Ronnie and Will try to comfort him and offer to help. That scene in the book was one of my favorites and one of the most emotional, and it was done very well here; as I said before, props to Bobby Coleman. Miley Cyrus did well with her two crying scenes-- my mom and roommate felt her tears were somewhat forced when she broke down in the hospital room, and that the one where she cries over the piano was more organic. (I told them they couldn't complain; the WORST crying I have seen in recent memory was Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air.)

The problem was, I felt like the book should have been written first and THEN the screenplay should have been written. Things were just more coherent in the book and I felt as though the screenplay would have been less muddled. Certain things were in the movie that could have been left out, and certain things that must have been afterthoughts for the book should have been put in. My major complaints:

- The whole reason-for-the-fire subplot. It didn't need to be in the movie, because Scott's friendship with Will was glossed over. I can't remember exactly, but there was something in the book like Scott hung out with Will because he felt guilty for Will's brother dying, but that wasn't here. So the reason Scott hung out with Will didn't have to be explained, and the reason Will covered Scott's ass about the fire didn't have to be in the movie at all. Scott being involved in the fire really didn't have to be there, period.

- Blaze framing Ronnie for shoplifting. In the book, that's a little bigger and definitely more resolved. Ronnie sees more of Blaze's home life and then there's the whole thing where Blaze gets very, very severely burned and Ronnie and Will save her life, and it makes it easier to believe that Ronnie forgives her because of all of this. The shoplifting thing was never mentioned again in the movie, even though Ronnie has a record and it's a big deal because she could be sent to juvie (or jail; can't remember). I won't say it wasn't necessary to the plot; I think it was, but it needed to be explored further.

- Megan, Will's sister, coming to talk to Ronnie after the wedding. I really wish that scene hadn't been in the book only; I think it's one of those things Sparks realized the potential for afterwards. Megan tells Ronnie how much Will really cares about her, and it gives a little more insight into why Will's parents are the way they are, and makes them marginally more sympathetic. They also should have showed a little more of Mr. Blakelee-- he's a very nice guy in the book; here, he came off as a bit of a clueless Hillbilly.

- My biggest problem: they left out the fact that Ronnie's mother is the one who destroyed the marriage by having an affair with the man who is about to become Ronnie and Jonah's stepdad. I felt like this most definitely had to be in the movie and I was annoyed that it wasn't. It's a huge turning point when Ronnie realizes she's been blaming Steve for something that wasn't his fault. It gets her to realize her mom isn't perfect. It would have helped explained Ronnie's resentment more if they'd worked on expanding the whole divorce backstory.

My main problem with the movie was that so much potential was wasted and that it could have been much tighter if Sparks had written the expansion of the story, the book, first. He could have then picked and chose from those elements what to put in the screenplay earlier, rather than throwing together this jumbled mess of ideas and refining them into a clearer, more well-put together form. I just wish they'd had some kind of editor for the screenplay who could have fixed it (it looks like he did work in collaboration with someone else, or had someone else tighten it for him; Jeff Van Wie is credited alongside him). I liked the movie a whole lot and thought it was good overall; it just could have been much better done.

Overall, it's a pretty decent teen movie and a good tearjerker; I'd recommend it for those crowds. But I'd definitely recommend reading the book to see what the movie could have been.

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