Were it not for the romance that blossomed behind-the-scenes, The Last Song would be an entirely forgettable movie. Inching towards its 10th anniversary, it’s one of the weaker Nicholas Sparks screen adaptations, but over the years, it’s achieved a certain cult status, mainly because watching it allows us to buy into the myth that we’re watching Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth fall in love in real time.
The announcement of their split after a decade of on-again-off-again love, and less than a year of marriage hit the internet like an atomic bomb over the weekend. The added news that Cyrus was rebounding on a girls’ trip to Italy with Kaitlynn Carter, newly split from Brody Jenner, only added to the scandalous appeal of a break-up seemingly engineered to retain our attention.
It’s no surprise that Cyrus and Hemsworth crafted an exit strategy stylishly packaged for public consumption. They’ve spent their entire relationship under our watchful gaze, beginning with the movie that brought them together in the first place.
Directed by Julie Ann Robinson from a screenplay by Sparks and Jeff Van Wie, The Last Song follows a pretty standard format. Rebellious Ronnie (Cyrus) and her little brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are sent to spend the summer with their father, Steve (Greg Kinnear), in a Georgia beach town. A gifted pianist and singer (she was supposedly admitted to Julliard without an audition, which according to a comment from the school is “not a plausible scenario.”), Ronnie has given it all up, to make her parents feel really bad about their divorce three years earlier. But despite her inner pact to hate every second of this beach vacation, a meet-cute with Will (Hemsworth), his blonde highlights, and his washboard abs, during a volleyball match gone awry soon distracts her from her plan to be the actual worst. She makes him “feel alive” despite his cold, rich upbringing. He quotes Anna Karenina and loves sea creatures — true love!
For a while, it looks like Ronnie’s life is back on track — with arm candy to boot. That is, until she finds out that A) her father, with whom she’s just reconnected, is dying, and B) her paramour has been hiding some major secrets from her.
This movie is pure Nicholas Sparks schmaltz. But Hemsworth and Cyrus’ undeniable chemistry makes it a cornerstone of the foundational myth of their love story. In fact, Cyrus and Hemsworth’s real-life relationship has oddly mirrored their fictional Last Song one, and not just because they shared their first, and totally unscripted, kiss on-set.
Their own meet-cute — two young, attractive actors falling in love while working on a tearjerker about young, attractive people falling in love — definitely rivals Ronnie and Will’s volleyball milkshake incident. Like Ronnie, Cyrus would eventually go through a rebellious phase, shedding her more innocent musical roots as Hannah Montana for an edgier, and more creatively mature phase. Ronnie shoplifted; Miley twerked with her tongue out at the VMAs. Much like Will, Hemsworth comes from a clan of attractive blonde superhumans er, people.
But most significantly, The Last Song primed us to expect that no matter the obstacles, these two will be endgame. And indeed, like Ronnie and Will, Cyrus and Hemsworth have navigated the choppy waters of a breakup before. By my count, Ronnie and Will call it off at least twice during the film’s run time. First, right after their first date, when Ronnie finds out about Will’s past as a womanizer; and second, when he reveals that he was there the night the local church burned down, an event that has caused her dad, Steve, to wrack himself with guilt.
Cyrus and Hemsworth’s first break-up came circa August 2010, just five months after she confirmed to E! News that he was, in fact, her boyfriend. That didn’t stick — the two got back together in April 2011, and engagement rumors started swirling soon after. And indeed, in June 2012, they announced they were getting hitched — only to publically call it off in September 2013. (In the same mold as the Cyrus/Carter hot girl summer moment, Hemsworth was photographed kissing actress Eiza Gonzalez the very next day.)
Still, we clung on, hoping that this wasn’t the end. The Last Song taught us wait for the big finale, the moment where Ronnie and Will announce that they’re both going to college in New York — him to Columbia and her to Juilliard. And like clockwork, the two did get back together. In January 2016, Cyrus was spotted wearing her old engagement ring, and by October, it was confirmed. In December 2018, the two were married in an intimate, private ceremony, and shared videos and photos to social media so we could all partake in the joy. Sparks, the architect of their romance, notably congratulated the couple on Twitter.
Eight months later, they’ve now called it quits again — seemingly for good this time — and it’s worth paying special attention to the language the ex-couple has used in their respective statements.
“Liam and Miley have agreed to separate at this time,” the statement released by Cyrus’ rep reads. “Ever-evolving, changing as partners and individuals, they have decided this is what’s best while they both focus on themselves and careers. They still remain dedicated parents to all of their animals they share while lovingly taking this time apart. Please respect their process and privacy.”
Cyrus reiterated her need for “evolution” in an Instagram post on Sunday. Hemsworth for his part, wrote in a caption that he wishes her “nothing but health and happiness going forward." Translation: they’ve moved on. They’re not the people from The Last Song anymore — if they ever were at all.
They’re not the first couple to succumb to the Sparks curse. Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, who met on the set of The Notebook and dated for four years, suffered a similar fate, indisociable from Noah and Ally. Nor is the phenomenon exclusive to the Sparksverse — see: Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan (Step-Up); Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, By the Sea); Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man); Laurence Fishburne and Gina Torres (The Matrix: Reloaded); Adam Brody and Rachel Bilson (The O.C.).
Not every couple who meets on-set will inevitably break-up. Success stories include Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern), Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem (Jamon Jamon), and Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinz Jr. ( I Know What You Did Last Summer), among others. But what all those stories have in common is the very specific reaction they elicit from audiences: a voyeuristic sense of ownership, of having somehow been involved after watching it unfold on our screens. The lines blur between the characters, and the real people portraying them.
Obviously, The Last Song isn’t the real cause of Cyrus and Hemsworth’s breakup. But it has been fundamental in shaping our external understanding of them as a couple. We’ll always be rooting for them because in our minds, they are Will and Ronnie, young attractive people who fell in love during a dreamy, formative summer at the beach. In that sense, The Last Song doomed them from the start. No one could live up to the fantasy expectations of that kind of storybook romance. The pressure is just too great.
Still, we’ve reached out to Nicholas Sparks for comment — just in case.