Sparks was approached to write both the film's screenplay and the novel. Sparks completed the screenplay in January 2009, prior to the completion of the novel, making The Last Song his first script to be optioned for film. The setting, originally in North Carolina like the novel, relocated to Georgia after the states had campaigned for months to host production. Upon beginning production in Tybee Island, Georgia and nearby Savannah, The Last Song became the first movie to be both filmed and set in Tybee Island. Filming lasted from June 15 to August 18, 2009 with much of it occurring on the island's beach and pier. The Last Song was released by Touchstone Pictures on March 31, 2010. Upon release, the film received a negative response from critics, particularly towards its screenplay and casting.
At seventeen, Veronica "Ronnie" Miller (Miley Cyrus) remains as rebellious as she was the day her parents divorced and her father moved to North Carolina three years prior. Once a classical piano child prodigy under the tutelage of her father, Steve Miller (Greg Kinnear), Ronnie now ignores the instrument and has not spoken with her father since he left. While Juilliard School has been interested in her since she was young, Ronnie refuses to attend.
Steve now has the chance to reconnect with his estranged daughter when her mother, Kim Miller (Kelly Preston) sends the rebellious teen and her younger brother, Jonah (Bobby Coleman), to spend the summer with him. Steve, a former Juilliard School professor and concert pianist, lives a quiet life in Wrightsville Beach, the small beach town in North Carolina where he grew up, working on a stained glass window for the local church to replace the one the church lost in a fire. According to the locals, it was Steve who had (accidentally) set fire to the church one night.
After arrival, Ronnie becomes miserable, defiant, and defensive toward all those around her, including handsome, popular Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth) whose introduction involved crashing into her during a volleyball match, and accidentally spilling Ronnie's strawberry shake on her. She shrugs him off and meets Blaze, an outcast who lives with her boyfriend Marcus. While at a beach campfire, Marcus hits on Ronnie and Blaze mistakes this for Ronnie flirting with him. Angered by this, Blaze later frames Ronnie for shoplifting, causing her arrest. Later on, Ronnie discovers a Loggerhead Sea Turtle nest at the beach by her house and while protecting it, she meets Will again on his volunteer work for the aquarium. After a night of staying up to defend the turtle eggs from predators with Will, she discovers he is deeper than she expected, and begins to develop feelings for him.
The next day, Will takes Ronnie to where he works to show her the aquarium. After they leave to the beach, Ashley shows up and tells Ronnie about Will's past relationships and how taking them to see the aquarium was routine of his, making Ronnie doubtful of her feelings toward him. Will finds her at the turtle's nest and they have an argument about his past relationships. When Ronnie suggests she does not want to be another girl on the list and that they should end their relationship for good, Will embraces her and they kiss passionately, proving his feelings for her as akin to his quoting she's "not like the other girls." Marcus breaks up with Blaze because he wants Ronnie, which leads him and Will to fight at Megan's wedding party.
Ronnie soon hears the rumor that her father burned down the church from some locals. Distraught, she goes to Will and laments about the situation. Will, knowing that it was actually his friend Scott who while playing around set fire to the church, is overcome by guilt and goes to Steve to apologize. When Ronnie comes in hearing this, she walks out and Will follows where they have an argument and break up. Will leaves. Fall arrives and Jonah returns to New York for the school year. Ronnie stays behind to take care of their father, who revealed to Ronnie & Jonah during the summer that he is terminally ill. Leading a slow life, she tries to make up for the time with her father that she's lost. She continues work on a composition he had been writing (titled "For Ronnie"), after losing the steadiness of his hands due to his illness. He dies just as she finishes it.
At his funeral she stands to make a speech but declares that no words could ever be able to show how wonderful her father really was. Instead, she decides to share with them the song she helped finish. Before she sits down to play, sunlight shines through the stained glass window. Ronnie smiles and says "Hi, Daddy," remembering what she overheard her father tell Jonah earlier in the movie; that whenever light shines through the window, it's him.
Blaze and other townsfolk offer Ronnie sympathy and kind words after the funeral outside. Later on, while talking to the attendants, she runs into Will. He says that he liked the song she played and that he knows her dad did too and Ronnie thanks him for coming. Having decided to attend Juilliard, Ronnie is packing up to return to New York when she sees Will standing outside. She goes outside to see him and Will apologizes to her for everything that had happened and Ronnie forgives him. Will surprises Ronnie by revealing that he will be transferring to Columbia in order to be with her and they passionately kiss.
The end credits show Ronnie driving away in her car and smiling to herself.Miley Cyrus as Veronica "Ronnie" L. Miller, an angry, rebellious 17-year-old forced to spend a summer with her estranged father. She later falls in love with Will.
Liam Hemsworth as Will Blakelee, a popular and skilled beach volleyball player, Will aspires to attend a top university and volunteers at the Georgia Aquarium. He is Ronnie's love interest.
Greg Kinnear as Steve Miller, Ronnie and Jonah's father and former Juilliard School professor and concert pianist who moved to Georgia after his divorce. During the summer, Steve reconnects with Ronnie through their mutual love of music. With Jonah's help, Steve also works to reconstruct the centerpiece of the local church, a stained glass window, after the original was destroyed in a fire. He later dies of cancer.
Kelly Preston as Kim Miller, Ronnie and Jonah's mother who raised her children in New York City after her divorce.
Bobby Coleman as Jonah Miller, Ronnie's younger brother sent along with his elder sister to Tybee Island.
Nick Lashaway as Marcus, Blaze's abusive boyfriend and the leader of a gang of thugs who hustle money from beach carnival crowds through spectacular fire juggling performances.
Carly Chaikin as Blaze, a rebel who befriends Ronnie when she is sent to Georgia. Blaze betrays Ronnie when she frames Ronnie for shoplifting a watch, but they eventually became friends again.
Adam Barnett as Teddy, a young thug adept at hacky sack and juggling, skills he uses as part of Marcus' crew to hustle money.
Nick Searcy as Tom Blakelee, Will's father.
Melissa Ordway as Ashley, Will's snobby ex-girlfriend.
Carrie Malabre as Cassie, Ashley's best friend who aids Ashley in antagonizing Ronnie.
Rhoda Griffis as a Doctor
Lance E. Nichols as Pastor Charlie Harris, the kind, devout Pastor of the local church. He was Steve's first piano teacher, parental figure, and best friend while Steve was growing up.
Hallock Beals as Scott, Will's best friend who ends up creating trouble between Will and Ronnie.
Stephanie Leigh Schlund as Megan Blakelee, Will's elder sister who is engaged to be married.
The Last Song began when Disney executive Jason Reed met with Miley Cyrus to discuss her future career plans. At the time, Cyrus had been known mainly for starring as a pop star on Disney Channel's Hannah Montana, a children's television series that had expanded into a globally successful media franchise. As the series neared its end, Disney hoped to create a star vehicle to help Cyrus break out of the pop persona she had developed through the franchise and to introduce Cyrus to older audiences. During her meeting with Reed, Cyrus expressed a desire to film a movie similar to A Walk to Remember, a 2002 film based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. A Walk to Remember helped Mandy Moore, then a teen pop star much like Cyrus, launch an acting career. Disney called Adam Shankman, director of A Walk to Remember, who signed on to produce the potential Cyrus film along with his sister and Offspring Entertainment production company partner, Jennifer Gibgot. Tish Cyrus, Cyrus' mother and co-manager, became the film's executive producer. Cyrus' acting representation, United Talent Agency, then contacted Sparks, also a UTA client, to ask if he had plans for a novel appropriate for a film adaptation starring Cyrus.
At the time, Sparks had been wrapping up The Lucky One and beginning to ponder an original plot for his next book. The author told himself he could "either go younger than 20 or older than 50", having recently written about every age in between. Wary of venturing above 50 again after his best-seller The Notebook, Sparks had already been leaning toward writing a teenage story when he received a phone call from Gibgot on behalf of the film in August 2008. Sparks recalled, "Jennifer asked if I had anything laying around? I said no, but funny you should say that…" Sparks returned with a premise by the end of July 2008. Once the proposal had been agreed upon by Cyrus, her family, and Offspring Entertainment, Sparks, with the aid of co-screenplay writer Jeff Van Wie, completed the screenplay before starting the book. Sparks explained that such an arrangement was necessary in order to accommodate filming in summer 2009, as Disney had scheduled, but that "this is similar to the way it’s gone with movies based on my novels; it’s just out of order." Sparks and Van Wie completed the first draft of the screenplay in December 2008, the first rewrite later that month, and the second and final rewrite in January 2009. Both rewrites took approximately one or two days, and Sparks found them relatively simple. The finished screenplay was approximately 100 pages long. While The Last Song is not the first screenplay Sparks has written, it is his first to be optioned for film. The novel was completed in June 2009, the same time shooting for the film began, and was published on September 8, 2009 by Grand Central Publishing. The plot of the film and novel remained secret throughout development.
Julie Anne Robinson signed on to direct the film in May 2009, attracted by the emotion present in the story. The Last Song is Robinson's first feature film, although she is a veteran of television and theater. Robinson previously helmed episodes of American series such as Weeds and Grey's Anatomy and earned a Golden Globe nomination and a BAFTA award for her work on the BBC series Viva Blackpool.
In a June 2009 blog entry, Cyrus said she had "always been a fan of Nicholas Sparks" and that she had been waiting to do a production separate from the Hannah Montana franchise "for a long time", but had not found the time to do so due to her TV show, music, tours, and Hannah Montana: The Movie. In order to film The Last Song, Cyrus' contract for season four of Hannah Montana included an extra long hiatus.
Recognizing the popularity of A Walk to Remember as both a novel and film, Sparks "put all [his] thoughts into that, trying to make the story as different from A Walk to Remember as [he could], but try to capture the same feelings." Sparks' experiences as a father and as a high school track and field coach also helped shape the plot, and characters Jonah Miller and Will Blakelee are respectively based on Sparks' sons Landon and Miles. Sparks felt Ronnie was the hardest character to write for because he had "never been a 17-year-old, angry teenage girl". Ronnie became a composite character inspired by several young women Sparks has known, such as his nieces. Cyrus herself influenced Ronnie fairly little, although her singing career did inspire the musical elements of the story. Ronnie plays only the piano and Cyrus only sings a small amount in the film, though she does contribute to its soundtrack.
Disney did not give Sparks limitations on the topics featured in The Last Song, which include underage drinking, infidelity, and terminal illness but Sparks says that Disney desired to work with him in part because "they’ve read my novels. My teenagers… don't do bad things. I just don’t write that. I don’t write about adultery, I don’t write profanity ... I’ll certainly have love scenes in my novels, but they’re always between consenting adults.” Still, Sparks acknowledges that elements of the screenplay may have been toned down by the director or the studio after he finished. As dictated by the Writers Guild of America, Sparks receives full credit for his work although the amount of his original screenplay retained in the film is uncertain. For example, Sparks says the character of Marcus, leader of the gang of thugs, was likely altered for the film.
The project remained nameless for several months after Sparks' initial meeting with Disney in July 2008. Sparks wrote in a September 2008 online chat that "I have the idea completed, but no title. That's common for me though. Titles come last." The film was referred to by the working title "Untitled Miley Cyrus Project" In March 2009, Variety magazine called "The Last Song" a "tentative" title.
Cyrus chose the name "Ronnie" for her character in honor of her grandfather, Ron Cyrus, who died in 2006. Unknown to many the character had first been named "Kirby" by Sparks and later changed to "Hilary". New interviews with Sparks reveal he imagined Cyrus in the role "only a little" during the writing process. The completion of the screenplay, concerned Sparks that Cyrus would not be able to successfully execute the role: "The first thing I thought when I finished the screenplay was, wow, I hope she can do this, this is a tough role because I'm bringing you through a whole gamut of emotion and you're just a 16-year-old girl who's done the Disney Channel. Are you able to do this as an actress?", After visiting the set and watching Cyrus film, Sparks' worries abated. To play the New York teen, Cyrus worked with a dialect coach to lose her Southern accent and learned to play classical piano. After she completed filming, Cyrus said that in a case of life imitating art, she had matured and "changed a lot" over the course of her summer in Georgia, similar to the way Ronnie does in the film. "Showing this movie, I feel like I'm really showing a part of my growth as a person as well. So I'm really excited for people to see it."
In April 2009, Disney officials chose Rafi Gavron for the part of Will Blakelee, but switched to Australian actor Liam Hemsworth by May. On May 18, 2009, the decision to cast Greg Kinnear as Steve Miller was made final. Kelly Preston's part as Kim is the first role she has accepted since the death of her son, Jett Travolta. After being introduced to Cal Johnson, the film's stunt coordinator, Adam Barnett landed the role of Teddy in May 2009 due to his pre-developed talent in juggling and hackey sack.
The Last Song entered post-production following the end of filming on August 18, 2009. Automated dialogue replacement took place in mid-September; Beals and Chaikin stated they had gone in to record on September 11 and September 18 respectively. Chaikin said she had worked for five and a half hours. The director's cut was presented to the studio on October 1, 2009. The Motion Picture Association of America reviewed the film and issued it a PG rating for "thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language" three weeks later.
The Last Song had originally been set in Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington in North Carolina. Though they wished to shoot on location, filmmakers also examined three other states and identified Georgia as the next best filming site. Georgia’s housing prices were higher, but the state’s filming incentive package refunded 30% of production costs such as gasoline, pencils, and salaries. North Carolina’s package refunded 15% and excluded salaries of over $1 million. Still, Disney remained interested in North Carolina and offered to film there if the state would reduce the amount the company would save in Georgia, approximately $1 million, in half. North Carolina officials searched for ways to accomplish this, including applying unsuccessfully for state and Golden LEAF Foundation grants. They also introduced legislation to improve the state’s refund to 25%, which eventually passed on August 27, 2009. Disney decided to work within existing incentive laws and agreed to film in North Carolina as long as the film rights they had bought from Sparks counted as a production cost, thereby saving the company an additional $125,000 to $225,000. Then-North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue set up a press conference on April 1, 2009 to announce N.C.’s victory. North Carolina tax collectors refused to consider the film rights, forcing Perdue to cancel the conference at the last second. "I was hopeful to say that it was coming and now I don't know that I'll get to say that," Perdue said. "Nobody knows what's going to happen [...] I don't know what figures they got from Georgia, but Georgia wants them badly, and we want them badly, and by Monday [April 6, 2009], there'll be four or five other states that want them badly." Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission, explains: "Disney makes feature films. They also make television series; they make individual movies for the Disney Channel. By losing this one project, in essence, we've lost all of those opportunities.” He also notes the loss of jobs and tourism filming would have created.
On April 9, 2009, after three months of deliberation, the decision to relocate to Georgia was made final. To determine the specific town, location scouts scoured the state for an aged, isolated, oceanfront property to use as the Miller family’s home in the film. After another three months and the discovery of the "Adams Cottage" on the southern tip of Tybee Island, Tybee and neighboring locations became the sites of filming in late March, with the intention of masquerading the area as Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina., The locale proved too unique to disguise. “We had a hard time trying to hide the fact that this was Tybee and Savannah was Savannah," said Bass Hampton, the film's location director. Filmmakers convinced the screenwriters to change the setting of the film and to Tybee Island, thus allowing them to incorporate landmarks such as the Tybee Island Light Station and the Savannah Historic District. The setting of Sparks' novel remained in North Carolina. Though other movies have been filmed in Tybee Island, The Last Song is the first to be both filmed and set in Tybee Island. With the city’s name plastered on everything from police cars to businesses, Georgia officials predict a lasting effect on the economy. In addition, The Last Song is estimated to have brought up to 500 summer jobs to Georgia, $8 million to local businesses, and $17.5 million to state businesses.
Nelson Coates is the production designer for The Last Song, responsible for all visual aspects of the movie. Coates, who was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on the Stephen King television miniseries The Stand, arrived 11 weeks prior to the start of filming to do prep work. While most of the filming took place on the natural Tybee Island beach or on pre-constructed private property, Coates oversaw the re-painting of the pier and the construction of the carnival and church.
Location scouts had searched the entirety of Georgia for an aged, isolated oceanfront property to use as a home for the Millers for nearly three months before scout Andy Young came across the "Adams Cottage" on the southern end of Tybee Island. "It was getting down to zero hour," said Young. "Often, it's about the house. It can be a character itself in the movie." The house's owner, Sam Adams, welcomed filming as "an opportunity to sort of immortalize the house," in case it is destroyed by storms. The two-story, six bedroom house was built by Adams' great-grandfather in 1918 and was made entirely out of hard pine wood with very few painted surfaces. According to Savannah Morning News reporter Lesley Conn, it "was built in classic rambling beach style [... designed] to allow ocean breezes to sweep through wide, wraparound porches into cool, heart-pine rooms."
The church set was built over a six-week period in a vacant lot on the corner of 13th Street and Sixth Avenue, near residential homes. The one-room, 2,000-square-foot (190 m2) building seats approximately 80 people and is estimated to be worth $250,000 to $350,000. Special-effects coordinator Will Purcell subdued concerns about the church burning scene by stating that the building would not actually be set on fire. The intended menacing effect is "all camera angles. It is a safe environment for actors to do their work." Several techniques were used to simulate the fire, including the use of propane pipes to shoot flames through the church windows. At the end of filming, Cyrus hoped to fly the church set back to her family's estate in Tennessee. Disney agreed to donate the building to the island after Tybee officials lobbied to keep it, with the condition that its connection to The Last Song not be advertised. The set will be moved to a new location and brought up to code for use as a non-denominational chapel for island weddings; renovations are expected to cost approximately $600,000.
Cyrus' busy schedule necessitated that filming take place over the summer. Sparks noted, "She’s got a fall music tour and then she’s back filming Hannah Montana in the spring again. So the only time she had free in her schedule was over the summer." Principal photography began on June 15, 2009 and finished on August 18, 2009. Filming did not take place during weekends.
On the first day of production, Cyrus and Hemsworth filmed a kiss in the ocean. Other scenes which took place in June included the carnival and volleyball tournament, both of which were filmed on the beach near the Tybee Island pier. Filming at the pier wrapped up on June 23, 2009 after shooting the scene in which Kim drops off Ronnie and Jonah to live with Steve. Scenes of the church fire were shot on July 10, 2009. Filming at the Georgia Tech Savannah campus began on July 16. Kinnear finished taping on July 17, 2009. Wedding scenes and a key driving scene were filmed at the Wormsloe Historic Site between July 20 and July 23 for twelve hours each day. Driving scenes in Isle of Hope, Georgia continued to the 28. By July 30, the movie had returned to Tybee Island for more beach scenes. Chaikin's character framed Cyrus' for stealing a watch on August 6. On August 10, Hemsworth performed an oil change and Cyrus browsed an upscale boutique in downtown Savannah for the movie. The funeral was filmed from August 11, 2009 to August 13, 2009 at the church set in Tybee Island. On August 15, further church burning scenes took place. The wrap party was held on the 16, and the cast and crew arrived in Atlanta, Georgia the following day to spend the last days of filming at the Georgia Aquarium. After analyzing the area on the 17th, the movie began shooting in public areas at dawn on the 18th to avoid crowds. Once the aquarium opened to the public at 10:00, filming shifted to behind-the-scenes areas.
Due to the conflicting personalities of his protagonist couple, Sparks faced difficulty in finding a vehicle that would draw Will and Ronnie to spend time together. “It had to be during the summer, she [Ronnie] had to be new in town, and whatever happened had to start in June and end in August. Because you always want a conclusion,” said Sparks of his requirements. He mentioned summer camp or a summer job as typical vehicles used in books, but dismissed them as unoriginal and boring. “So it’s got to be original, it’s got to be interesting, and at the same time it’s got to be universal, that you feel like it could happen to anybody.” Sparks eventually chose to have Will and Ronnie bond over a loggerhead sea turtle nest, knowing that Loggerhead eggs often hatch in August. The scene of the hatching nest took place during the first week of August and involved 26 live loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings. Sea turtle hatchlings have an innate sense to head toward the ocean water as soon as they are born, so scenes of the nest hatching had to be taken swiftly. Said Mike Dodd of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the biologist who supervised the scene, the hatchlings "did all they know how to do: They crawled down to the water and swam off." Sparks told an interviewer he suspected filmmakers would digitally add more turtles to the scene. At the time of filming, the loggerhead sea turtle was listed as a threatened species. The environmentally friendly theme was an added bonus to Tybee Island, which was then promoting ecotourism.
"When I Look at You", song by Miley Cyrus, was originally from her EP The Time of Our Lives released August 31, 2009, but was included on the soundtrack because it fit the movie well. The song is used in the background of the film's trailer.
At the launch of his album Cradlesong on June 30, 2009, Rob Thomas told the New York Daily News, "My buddy Adam Shankman, who just directed Miley's movie, called me on the phone the other day and was like, 'You have to write a song for this movie.'... I would definitely write a song for her [Cyrus]." In the end, however, Thomas was unable to contribute music to The Last Song, citing "scheduling problems" as the reason.
The soundtrack features a track by Casey McPherson, frontman of the band Alpha Rev which signed with Disney's Hollywood Records in August 2008. Variety magazine's Anthony D'Alessandro notes that the use of soundtracks as "launch pads" for new Disney artists is a common practice. "A Different Side of Me" by Allstar Weekend was also included on the soundtrack. They are a group newly signed to Hollywood Records after winning the N.B.T. Competition through the Disney Channel. The soundtrack was released in the U.S. on March 23, 2010. Though not featured on soundtrack, Snow Patrol's 2006 single "Shut Your Eyes" and Feist's "I Feel It All" also appear in the film . The soundtrack had a major increase in sales in the week of the DVD release. The soundtrack peaked at #104 on the Billboard 200 albums chart."When I Look at You" was released as a single on February 16, 2010. It has peaked at #16 on the US Hot 100 and #24 on the Canadian Hot 100.
"I Hope You Find It" is a track from the album. It received a large amount of digital downloads after the album was made available for online purchase. It debuted at #8 on Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart in the week ending April 10, 2010 and peaked at #5 a week later before it dropped out in the week ending April 24, 2010. In September 2013, the song received media attention for being covered by Cher for her 26th studio album Closer to the Truth.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures originally scheduled The Last Song for wide release on January 8, 2010, but was delayed from January 8, 2010 to March 31, 2010.
Upon the release of the novel on September 8, Sparks began a book tour reaching around 13 cities and gave several interviews. During these events, he discussed writing both the novel and the screenplay. Cyrus and Walt Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook discussed the film on September 11, 2009 at the first D23 Expo. The first clips from the film appeared online on September 11, 2009, interspersed within one version of the "When I Look at You" music video. The film's first trailer was integrated into Cyrus' Wonder World Tour and premiered during the tour's opening night on September 14, 2009 in Portland, Oregon. Midway through each concert, the trailer was shown on large video screens surrounding the stage. After it finished, Cyrus played a white piano and sang "When I Look at You" while film clips continued to play on the screens behind her. On November 16, 2009, the first three film stills were released via the film's Facebook page. The following day, the film's trailer premiered online. The film's premiere was held in Los Angeles on March 25, 2010. Cyrus was originally planned to go to the UK premiere of the film, but due to the April 14, 2010 eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajökull that blanketed Europe in volcanic ash and grounded all flights to and from the continent, she was unable to attend.
The Last Song was released on DVD and Blu-ray on August 17, 2010.
The Last Song performed well for when it was released for the first time, garnering $5,125,103 on approximately 3,300 screens at 2,673 theaters for an average of $1,917 per theater.
It has grossed $62,950,384 in North America and $26,091,272 in other territories for a worldwide total of $89,041,656.
In its opening weekend, the film grossed $16,007,426, finishing fourth at the box office behind Clash of the Titans ($61,235,105), Why Did I Get Married Too? ($29,289,537) and How to Train Your Dragon ($29,010,044).
The Last Song was panned by critics. Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, gives the film an average of 4/10 and a rating of 20% based on 116 reviews. The critical consensus is summarized: "As shamelessly manipulative as any Nicholas Sparks production, The Last Song is done no favors by its miscast and over matched star, Miley Cyrus." Metacritic, which assigns normalized ratings to films, The Last Song holds a "generally unfavorable" score of 33% based on 27 reviews.
Reviewers were critical of Sparks' and Van Wie's screenplay and formulaic storyline. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle says the screenplay's faults include several "scenes that make no emotional sense" and claims, "The plot construction is weak. Incidents don't flow one into the next." When reviewing Cyrus's performance, critics acknowledged her stage presence, but were frequently critical of her acting abilities. Jay Stone of The Ottawa Citizen says Cyrus's portrayal of angry Ronnie "consist[s] of pouting and sneering [...] Cyrus doesn't have a lot of range, but she does have presence." Rob Nelson of Variety writes, "Cyrus, alas, hasn't yet learned not to act [...] But she does show off her considerable chops as a pianist and remains reasonably likable throughout." A. O. Scott of The New York Times believes that although "her Hannah Montana persona has a certain aggressive charm", in The Last Song she "play-act[s] rather than exploring the motives and feelings of her character." Roger Ebert gave the film a mixed 2.5/4. He praised the acting and directing, but derided the plot and Sparks's writing.
Kinnear's performance has been widely praised. A. O. Scott writes, "it’s nice to see Mr. Kinnear play an entirely sympathetic character for a change [but] his slyness and subtlety seem wasted in a project that has no interest in either." Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune writes, "Reliably honest and affecting, [Kinnear] fights off the waves of corn in much the same way that Tibetan monk defied the tsunami in 2012." Glen Whipp of the Associated Press writes, "Kinnear lends the movie a dignity it doesn't deserve". Stone advises, "I'd watch out for Liam Hemsworth". Stephen Witty of The Star-Ledger commends "newcomer Carly Chaikin [who] plays the "bad girl" [...] with an exciting mixture of wildness and vulnerability. Halfway in, I began wishing desperately that Chaikin was playing the lead." Reception for Coleman was mixed; Jeff Vice of "Deseret News" calls him a "hammy irritant" while Jon Bream of the Star Tribune writes, "The most memorable acting is by Coleman, 12 [... who] gets a lot of great lines and delivers them with aplomb". Despite the negative reviews from critics, the movie was well received from fans and audiences with a 66% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and with an average of a 7/10.