Should Your Tween See “The Last Song”? by Peggy Bowes

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Our family of four enjoys going to the movies.  Over the years, we’ve watched plenty of animated and family-friendly films together.  Now that our children are tweens, my husband and I will occasionally drop off our kids with friends or allow them to watch a PG movie on one screen while we enjoy a more adult-oriented film on another.

I am usually quite vigilant about checking out the kids’ movie ahead of time, but I admit I’ve occasionally sent my children into a theater without knowing too much about the film they’re about to see.  Unfortunately, not all PG movies are as innocent as they may seem.  Movie trailers can add to the confusion, giving a false impression that a movie is suitable for younger viewers.

Such is the case with the trailer for “The Last Song,” starring Miley Cyrus.   The scenes depicted look remarkably similar to those of the relatively tame “Hannah Montana Movie (also starring Miley Cyrus).  “The Last Song,” however, has a more mature theme and includes scenes that might not be appropriate for younger children.

When we are introduced to 17 year-old Ronnie Miller (Cyrus), her appearance is a bit of a shock.  She is dressed in dark clothing and make-up, sporting a nose piercing and plenty of attitude.  She is clearly outraged that her mother (Kelly Preston) has forced her to leave the Manhattan social scene to spend the summer with her estranged father, Steve (Greg Kinnear).  A bitter divorce has driven a wedge between father and daughter` to the extent that musically-gifted Ronnie refuses to play the piano to spite her dad, who had once been her teacher.

We gradually realize that Ronnie’s surly persona is a defense mechanism as her actions reveal her true character.  She is kind to her younger brother, Jonah (Bobby Coleman).  She resists peer pressure to drink alcohol and rebuffs the advances of another girl’s boyfriend.  She selflessly gives the money she was about to use to buy a new dress to a girl who is desperate and homeless.

Steve sees through his daughter’s act as well.  Although he literally sets boundaries for her in one amusing scene, he gives Ronnie time and space to work through her resentment toward him.  He listens quietly as she confides her difficulty in meeting new friends and her growing feelings for clean-cut local boy, Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth).  Steve’s kindness and faith in Ronnie help her to open up and learn to love him again as she slowly sheds her rebellious attitude and appearance.  Their shared passion for music and the piano strengthens this bond and leads to the film’s heartbreaking climax.

The characters are well-cast.  Greg Kinnear portrays Steve with both sensitivity and strength, and Miley Cyrus is a good fit for the role of Ronnie.  Kids and adults will both get a kick out of young Bobby Coleman, who steals every scene he’s in.  He portrays Ronnie’s younger brother Jonah with just the right mix of innocence and little-boy bravado.

Miley Cyrus’ role will no doubt have many of her younger fans begging to see “The Last Song,” but parents should use discretion.  Although there are a few humorous scenes, it is primarily a drama.  Younger tweens may tire of the story and may not understand some of the more mature themes portrayed.

A few other things concerned me as a parent.  Ronnie’s wardrobe in several scenes is a bit immodest, and she and Will share a passionate kiss that I didn’t find suitable for a PG movie.  The PG rating also cautions that there is “thematic material, some violence and mild language.”  Specifically, a group of teens drink alcohol by a fire at night, and a somewhat scary male teen cuddles up to Ronnie, even though he is the boyfriend of a girl she has just befriended.  The same young man later appears drunk at a wedding and makes a scene, using the words “hell” and “damn”.  He and Will fight aggressively, throwing punches.  A character dies, but the scene is portrayed sensitively and tastefully.

The movie has strong elements of hope, charity, forgiveness and the importance of family bonds.  There is also a subtle Christian theme, which is much more overt in the novel by Nicholas Sparks, who also wrote the screenplay for this film.  (See my interview with Sparks at http://catholicexchange.com/2010/03/19/128333/)

I asked my daughter, a mature fifth grader, to accompany me to the screening to get her perspective on “The Last Song”.  She laughed at times and generally liked the film, but remarked that it was a bit sad and probably more suitable for older kids.  We both enjoyed the opportunity to discuss some of the issues brought up in the movie that she would be facing in middle and high school.

Overall, I thought “The Last Song” was both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Although probably not destined to be a classic, it’s definitely a step above the average “popcorn flick”.  In general, this film may be most suitable for teens and older tweens, but it does provide a wonderful opportunity for a discussion afterwards.

“The Last Song” is released on DVD on August 17th.  The movie is rated PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language.

Copyright 2010 Peggy Bowes

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2 Comments

  1. Well written review! Your approach seems similar to that which I take towards children’s literature. I have not watched the film. However, with the characters presumably to be older teens, I would then assume the appropriate audience age to be 15+ or at least freshman in high school. From the commercials it clearly dealt with issues rather than problems, which automatically speaks to me a film (or book) is for high school and older rather than elementary or middle school set. Unfortunately today, younger children are often watching movies that, while appropriate for older kids, are not so for the younger set. :>)

    Debra

  2. Thanks, Debra. I see your point on the appropriate age for the film, but many children like to read/watch stories about children slightly older than they are. That’s why “High School Musical” was a big hit with the tweens, but not so much with high school kids.

    I agree that there are some elements in the film that are beyond some tweens and certainly younger children. That’s why I was very specific about those particular elements in the review. I wanted parents to know why the film was rated PG so that they could decide if their particular children should see the film.

    There really is a void between Disney cartoons and those “coming of age” films aimed at teens. We need more quality movies for tweens!

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