There is a little talked about phenomenon in junior high and high schools that for some reason preoccupied my thoughts throughout much of The Last Song, as my mind drifted away from what was on screen (it had little choice). I call it “socioeconomically pretty.” You may be familiar with it from your own experiences in high school, particularly if you went somewhere where popularity often aligned with class distinctions. The gist of it is this: There are a lot of not-very-attractive people in high school who are nevertheless perceived as attractive because of their socioeconomic standing. Wealthy parents, nice clothes, and an expensive car has a way of supplying confidence. People love confidence. It’s that very confidence that others find attractive, even where traditional beauty does not exist. If you believe you’re pretty, then so will others.
You could also call this the Tori Spelling effect.
The problem, of course, is twofold: 1) you’re often taking up a slot that would be better suited to a more attractive, insecure person on the other side of the socioeconomic divide, and 2) that beauty is not earned, either through proper genetic channels, or through talent, intelligence, wit, or kindness. In fact, it’s often that the perception of beauty is hanging on by the tiny thread of that confidence (which is why it often doesn’t survive in college or beyond), and in order to maintain others’ perception, that confidence can quickly lead to arrogance.
If that doesn’t make a lot of sense to you, don’t worry about it. I was a poor kid with a lot of free time on my hands to think about these things. It often kept me up at nights. And the thing is: I hated those socioeconomically pretty people. Hated. And I couldn’t wait for the day when everyone else could see them for the ugly person they really were.
Petty? Sure. Mean? Maybe. But it was those socioeconomically pretty people who shunned those of us on the other side of the line the most. Because we knew. And they knew we knew. And one day, the nerds would rise up and expose them for who they were! And then the nerds would feel bad about it because that’s the kind of people we were.
What does this have to do with The Last Song? Only this: Miley Cyrus is one of those socioeconomically pretty people. She thinks she’s pretty; she thinks she’s talented; and she thinks it so much, and with so much arrogance, that she’s convinced millions of others that she is those things. Do I feel terrible for saying that? Yes. But it’s true. And the world is eventually going to chip away at her confidence and expose her for what she is. That’s how drug-addicted former child stars are born. And when it happens, I’m probably going to feel bad about it. Because my assholery only extends to successful people.
The marks for The Last Song probably aren’t going to help her keep up that confidence. The movie is based on an amazingly terrible, amazingly dumb Nicholas Sparks’ novel, and instead of obscuring the giant, wound-sucking flaws in Sparks’ stories — like Rachel McAdams, Mandy Moore, Amanda Seyfriend, or Ryan Gosling have done with a modicum success in the past — Miley Cyrus only heightens them. She’s a terrible actress, and putting her on the same screen as Greg Kinnear makes it all the more apparent. Like most socioeconomically pretty people, her performance is based on props: When she’s sullen, in the beginning of the movie, she wears combat boots on the beach; when she falls in love, later, she wears sun dresses and tank tops. That’s the extent of her acting ability: Wardrobe changes. If it sounds like I’m being unfairly harsh on a 16 year old, it’s probably because I am. I’m kind of a dick.
If you’d had to suffer through The Last Song, you’d probably be a dick, too. Cyrus plays Ronnie, who doesn’t like her father (Kinnear) because he had the audacity to divorce her mother (Kelly Preston) and move to the beach. Cyrus is an apparently talented piano player who has recently been accepted to Juilliard, although she hadn’t played the piano in the years after her parents’ divorce (the school had apparently been keeping tabs on her early work). When Ronnie and her little brother, Jonah (Bobby Coleman), are dropped off at their father’s beach house for the summer, Ronnie is distant and argumentative.
However, through the sheer dumb luck of a preposterous meet cute (a boy knocks her milkshake on her during a volleyball game), she gets to know and eventually falls in love with Will (Liam Hemsworth), a blonde, blue-eyed generic pretty boy whose very generic prettiness only highlights the fact that Cyrus’ prettiness is a marketing construct. After spending the night on the beach, protecting some sea turtle eggs from raccoons (seriously), the sparks fly and the two fall in love over a long music montage that involves wrestling on the beach, eating ice creams, engaging in mud fights, and combing each other’s hair.
Ronnie’s relationship with Will, meanwhile, brings her closer to her father, because that’s what happens in crappy movies like these. She later learns that the town thinks her Dad burnt down a church. The real identity of the arsonists remains a mystery that is eventually solved in the most asinine way imaginable.
The Last Song is primarily a maudlin, overly sentimental bullshit teenage love story, and if it were just that, you could write it off as a mostly harmless tweener twit diversion. But, if you know Nicholas Sparks, you can most likely deduce the serious tonal shift that arrives in the last 20 minutes. If, on the other hand, you aren’t familiar with Nicholas Sparks, then you probably have no interest in this movie. The problem, of course, is that those who love Nicholas Sparks have the magical ability to succumb to his horse shit manipulation time and time and time again. If you’re one of them, your most likely response will mirror the woman 12 rows behind me, an anguished yelp that sounded like something akin to a cat being strangled. Everyone else, however, will likely roll their eyes, sigh exasperatedly, continue to wonder what it is that anyone sees in Miley Cyrus, and wonder silently if it’s impolite to make fun of her pronounced whistle-lisp.