The movie begins with a sequence of fire fighters rushing into a church to pull an unconscious man out as the building burns down. Then we see Kim (Kelly Preston) taking her daughter Ronnie (Miley Cyrus) and son Jonah to their dad in Georgia for the summer.
Ronnie short for Veronica has just graduated from high school and has been arrested for shoplifting in New York. Ronnie is wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and black boots with a lot of black eyeliner slouched in the backseat of a car. Jonah, her younger brother looks to be about 10 years old and is sitting shotgun while their mom drives through a small beach town in Georgia to take them to their father's house right on the beach.
As they pass a burnt down church Kim says it's a shame that it was the oldest church in town. Kim and Steve (Greg Kinnear) divorced and Kim stayed with the kids in New York. Steve left them and moved back down to the house they are now heading towards so Ronnie and Jonah can spend the summer with him. When they arrive it is obvious that Ronnie does not want to be there at all but Jonah is excited to see his dad again.
Kim drops them off and tells them to have fun. Jonah and his father, Steve spends the whole day together while Ronnie goes off to explore the town by herself. Ronnie is walking around on the beach and buys herself a raspberry smoothie. Some local boys are playing beach volleyball. As she walks by the court Will (Liam Hemsworth) collides into Ronnie and causes her to spill her smoothie all over her shirt. Will flirts with her and says he'll buy her a new shirt but Ronnie says she's fine and starts to walk away then Will says actually he won't buy her a shirt that he's just talking to her so that his opponents can catch their breath. Ronnie is not impressed and thinks he's an arrogant jerk. A blond girl named Ashley who has a crush on Will is watching them and becomes jealous.
Ronnie goes to look for a new shirt to buy and doesn't see anything she likes but there she meets a local girl named Blaze. Blaze says that her boyfriend gave her the nickname Blaze. Blaze takes Ronnie to a different store and they both look at shirts but Ronnie says they're too expensive. Blaze starts to stuff the shirt in Ronnie's purse but Ronnie tells her she can't because she's already been in trouble for shoplifting back in New York. Jonah sees them in the store and tells his sister that dad is looking for her and she pays him to not tell him where she is.
Blaze and Ronnie connect because Ronnie hates her dad and Blaze says she never knew her father and can't stand to be home so she stays with her boyfriend. Later Blaze, Blaze's boyfriend, Ronnie and some other guy hang out under the pier around a bonfire. Blaze's boyfriend tells Ronnie to get him another beer and Ronnie sarcastically asks him if his legs are broken. Blaze, sitting in his lap, gets up and says she'll go grab him one out of the icebox. When Blaze is at the icebox, her boyfriend starts hitting on Ronnie and Blaze thinks that Ronnie is reciprocating his attention but Ronnie pushes him away and gets up to leave. Ronnie goes home to her dad's house.
Steve is playing the piano in the living room. He is composing a song. When Ronnie walks in he asks where she's been all night that it's almost 1am and he hasn't seen her all day. Ronnie says she just wants to go to sleep and she never wanted to be there in the first place. She angrily opens a door that turns out to bathroom and Steve tells her where the bedroom is. She turns around and goes storming off to the room, slams the door when she's inside and starts to undress when Jonah sits up on the bed and startles her. Ronnie starts screaming at him to get out and Jonah explains to her that they have to share the room for the summer then he begs her to be nice to dad because he doesn't want to lose him again. Ronnie softens and tells him that dad will never leave them again.
Ronnie goes back out to the living room and asks him if he is going to continue playing because if he is then she will sleep outside. Steve tries to talk to Ronnie but she is being disrespectful and he tells her it's okay if she hates him but not to ruin her life in spite of him. Ronnie has been accepted to Julliard but she has decided that she doesn't want to go and Steve thinks it is because she knows that he would want her to go. He looks at a newspaper clipping with a headline about Veronica Miller (Ronnie is pictured at a much younger age) a piano prodigy. She did not even apply to Julliard but they have been keeping their eye on her and offered her admission because they know that she is a great talent. Steve asks her if she will ever play again and that she should because he knows that she loves it and music is her life but Ronnie doesn't answer him.
The next day Ronnie wakes up and sees Jonah and Steve already up on the porch having breakfast. Steve asks her to join them. He made eggs and bacon. Ronnie doesn't say anything and just walks out the front door. Jonah tells Steve that Ronnie is a vegetarian. Ronnie is walking on the beach when she sees a raccoon digging in the sand. An old lady walking by tells her that it must be sick because they don't come out in the daytime. Ronnie sees that it is trying to dig up a turtle's nest and she scares it away. Ronnie runs off then brings back a shopping cart that she overturns over the nest and starts frantically gathering things to seal the nest up so the raccoon can't eat the eggs. While she is doing this, her father Steve and her little brother Jonah are watching her through a pair of binoculars from the porch.
Ronnie runs in and asks if she can use the phone to call the local wildlife protection agency. She tells the person over the phone that there's a turtle's nest in front of my house and if they can send someone over. Steve smiles and says I like that you said my house. Ronnie says that he is too happy, smiling all the time and it creeps her out. Steve smiles and asks Jonah if his smile is creepy. Jonah tells him it is a little creepy and he should smile with teeth. Steve is working on a project to make a new stained glass window for the church and Jonah becomes his apprentice. They spend most of their time working on the window together or checking up on Ronnie through a pair of binoculars who is preoccupied a few yards away on the beach with the turtle's nest.
Ronnie goes to the bookstore to find a book about turtles. Will is at a diner eating lunch with his friend and sees Ronnie there reading her book. They are on their lunch break. He tells her he is sorry that he acted like a jerk and that he gets hyped up when he plays volleyball. Will is wearing a mechanic shirt. He works at his dad's brake shop with his friend. Will tells her it's a small town and he's heard she is from New York that he's been accepted to Columbia and maybe they will be neighbors. Will asks Ronnie what her name is and he says that he hopes to see her around and run into her again. Ronnie just smiles and tries to get back to her reading. Will's friend sees him talk to her and says, "Do you know who her father is? Just making sure."
She runs into Blaze who ignores her and slips a bracelet into her bag. Ronnie keeps asking Blaze what’s wrong because she won't respond. Blaze tells her to stay away from her boyfriend that he is all she has and she doesn't want her to be around him then leaves. When Ronnie goes after her she sets off the anti-theft alarm. The storeowner tells her he has to look in her purse so she gives it to him and he pulls out the bracelet. Steve picks up Ronnie and they get into another fight. Ronnie tells him to believe her that she didn't steal this time. Steve says that he is a friend with the storeowner and that he will talk to him. Ronnie grabs a reclining chair, a flashlight, and a blanket and sets up camp right next to the overturned shopping cart she placed over the nest. Whenever she hears the raccoon come back she tries to scare it away with her flashlight.
Then it is morning and we see that Ronnie spend the night on the beach protecting the nest. Will comes walking up and asks her what is she doing out there and she asks him the same thing. Will is now wearing an aquarium shirt and says he is there about a turtle's nest. Ronnie is surprised and comments that he has a lot of jobs then says that she's been waiting a whole day for someone to show up about the turtle eggs. Will asks if she spent the night there and she says no my hair looks like this all the time. Will says that he didn't want to say anything about how messy her hair looked. Will sets up wooden stakes around the nest and tells her that what she did is nice but the turtles won't be able to get out when they hatch and shows her how he wraps the nest with a plastic wrap that allows the turtles to crawl out when they hatch.
Will brings his own lawn chair and sets up camp right next to Ronnie and they both look like they are going to spend the night there protecting the nest. He also brought a radio because he says it will keep the raccoon away. Steve and Jonah are watching through their binoculars and say this doesn't look good. Will and Ronnie are talking the whole night getting to know each other. Steve gets up and walks over to them when it becomes dark outside. Will stands up and introduces himself and Steve draws a line in the sand between them then moves Will's chair over a few feet away from Ronnie and Will just nods and says yes sir then Steve leaves them alone. Ronnie is pretending to be asleep when her dad comes over and does that. She is trying not to laugh. Will and Ronnie fall asleep then the next morning Will tells her that it was the best date he ever had. Ronnie says that it was not a date. Will says he volunteers at the aquarium today and if she would like to come along and see what he does there he would like for her to join him so she goes and spends the day with him at the aquarium.
They swim around in the fish tanks in wetsuits and he has a whiteboard underwater and writes on it "Is it a date yet?" and she shakes her head no. Later we see Ronnie, Jonah, and Steve on the beach sitting in the bleachers to watch Will and his best friend compete in a beach volleyball tournament. Ashley is sitting behind her and says "oh great it's the shoplifter and the arsonist" Ronnie gets up to go get Will a drink when Ashley follows her and asks her if he took her to the aquarium like all the other girls. She tells her that she was one of those girls and that Will has been out with a lot of girls and that he makes them all feel special when he's with them but that he will move on to a new one just like how he did with her. Ronnie becomes upset and rushes off. Will comes to her house to ask her what Ashley said to her and she tells him. Will tells her that it's true that he has had a lot of girlfriends but that Ronnie is different and she makes him feel something that none of the other girls did. They kiss on the beach and Ronnie goes back home with a big smile on her face. Jonah asks her what's wrong and Steve says she's just been kissed. Ronnie says, "Dad!" and Steve says, "Oh I was right so you did! "Ronnie asked her dad about why Ashley called him an arsonist and he tells her that the night the church burned down he was there playing the piano when he feel asleep and the next thing he knew he was dragged out by firemen so the whole town thinks it was his fault. He says that he was on some medication and it made him drowsy. Ronnie asks him what kind of medicine and he changes the subject saying he's fine but he feels guilty about the fire because he had lit some candles and he shouldn't have fallen asleep.
Ronnie and Will are spending more and more time together. They are singing "She Will Be Loved" by Maroon 5 in Will's truck. Will is terribly off-key but he says that Ronnie can sing and is there anything else that he doesn't know about her? Will takes a shortcut but his truck gets stuck in mud. Will and Ronnie throw mud all over each other and decide to go to his house to hose off. Ronnie says she doesn't want to meet his parents looking dirty but Will tells her that his parents went out and will not be home. Will pulls up to a private gate and says "Hi George It's Will" Ronnie is confused and asks him, "Who's George? Where are we? Is this another place you work?" They drive down a long path surrounded by trees and pull up to a mansion. Ronnie starts freaking out and says you're rich why didn't you tell me? I thought you said your dad just owns a brake shop? Will tells her that he owns about 300 brake shops nationwide. An elegant woman comes out of the house and it turns out to be Will's mom back home early with his dad. She tells them to get cleaned up and come inside for dinner.
Ronnie and Will have dinner with Will's parents who tell her that they both met at Vanderbilt and that Will is expected to start there in the fall. They ask Ronnie where she will go and she tells them that she hasn't thought about college and doesn't know what she wants to do yet. Will's father says that she is much prettier than Will described her. He starts to ask Will if he has gone through Mikey's stuff yet and Will's mother cuts him off and tells him to talk about it later. Will’s mother asks Ronnie if she's coming to the wedding. Will's sister is getting married and she tells her that Will is supposed to bring Ashley as his date. Ronnie is visibly upset about this and says that she hadn't received an invitation.
After dinner Will and Ronnie go out to his backyard where there's a gazebo on a lake and she tells him maybe they should just end this because his mother doesn't approve of her and he should be with someone who suits his lifestyle. Will tells her that they may look like a perfect happy family but they're not. His parents are not in love and his brother Mikey died in a car accident. His mom was driving while Mikey and him were goofing around in the backseat and when she turned to tell them to stop playing around she lost control of the vehicle and Mikey died instantly. Ronnie tells Will that she loves him and he tells her that he loves her too. Ronnie takes Will by the hand and goes back into his house and tells him there is something you don't know about me then begins to play the piano. She goes home and tells her father, Steve, that she finally played again and he is happy for her.
Ronnie receives an invitation to the wedding with a note that says Better late than never. She is overjoyed and shows her dad who tries to give her money to buy a dress and Ronnie reluctantly takes it. Ronnie is out shopping for a dress to wear to Will's sister's wedding when she sees Blaze getting yelled at by her boyfriend. He is demanding that she pay rent for living with him and is pushing her around. Ronnie tells him to leave her alone and he drives off. Blaze starts crying and says, "Look what you did! He's all I have. Don't try to help me just leave me alone" but Ronnie feels bad and sets down all the money her dad gave her down next to Blaze who is sitting in the dirt, crying.
Ronnie goes home to look through her closet trying to find something to wear when Jonah asks her what she's doing. He asks her what she did with dad's money and she tells him she gave it away. Jonah calls her crazy and says well I have a lot of money saved up from all the times you paid me not to tell on you and I want you to have it because I don't want Will to break up with you just because you don't look good at the wedding. Jonah and Ronnie go dress shopping and find a cute pink dress. She goes to the wedding and Blaze is catering there. Blaze tells her that she wants to thank her for being so nice to her when she shouldn't. They make up and Blaze tells her that she broke up with her boyfriend and that she realized that she deserves better. Blaze's boyfriend shows up at the wedding and causes a scene. Will fights with him. Will's mom is embarrassed and tells Will to take her home-both of them referring to Blaze and Ronnie.
That night the turtle eggs hatch and Ronnie, Steve, Jonah and Will help the turtles get to the ocean with flashlights. Steve runs back to the house to get another flashlight when he collapses in the sand. Ronnie sees him fall and runs over to him. Next we see them in the hospital. Steve has lung cancer and he had been keeping it a secret. The doctor tells Ronnie that he had decided to cut back on his medication a few months ago so that he would be able to fully experience his time with Ronnie and Jonah when they came to visit for the summer. Will and Jonah finish the stained glass window together in time for Steve to see it put into the newly built church when he leaves the hospital.
Will tells his best friend that they have to tell Steve the truth because he is dying and feels guilty about the church burning down. Will's friend actually accidentally burned the church down that night. They both go to tell Steve and Steve tells them that he's grateful that they told him and that they should keep it between themselves and not tell the police because he doesn't want Will's best friend to ruin his life and he doesn't care that the town thinks he did it-it doesn't matter to him what they think. Ronnie overhears their conversation and calls Will a coward for not coming clean about it sooner. She is mad at him for letting her father believe that he really caused the fire.
Kim, Ronnie and Jonah's mother comes to take them home. Ronnie says that she would like to stay to help her father. Kim tells her that he will only get worse and Ronnie says that she knows and that is why she has to stay with him. Kim and Jonah go back to New York. Ronnie stays to live with Steve and they become closer as they work together to finish the song that Steve was composing in the beginning of the movie. The song is called "For Ronnie" and Ronnie helps him to finish it. Steve dies. Ronnie says at the funeral that she wrote many speeches but she knows that music is the language her father and her both shared and he would have liked for her to play their song for them. Ronnie plays the song and sees Will come into the church. Ashley tells Ronnie that she's sorry for her loss. Blaze gives Ronnie a hug. Ronnie is seen mingling with the guests and is looking for Will.
Ronnie goes to talk to Will after the funeral but the pastor interrupts and when she looks for him a moment later he is gone. The next morning she is packing all the stuff from her dad's house and notices Will outside on the beach. She goes outside and they make up. Ronnie says that she decided to go to Julliard after all and Will says that he is transferring from Vanderbilt to Columbia so that he can make many more mistakes with the girl that he loves. Ronnie packs up all her stuff, packs it into her dad's car and drives away from the house. The End.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Ronnie (short for Veronica) and Jonah's parents got divorced when they were young and they've been living with their mom. She is re-marrying a new man soon.
The mom decides to ship them off to their dad's for the summer since they haven't seen him since he left them, probably because their dad is dying of lung cancer and wants to make amends before he dies.
While there, Ronnie falls in love with Will, makes up with her father, breaks up with Will, gets back with Will and grows up from a surly teenage delinquent who doesn't know what she wants to do with her life into a strong compassionate young woman who finds purpose in her life.
Ronnie stays to take care of her ailing father and helps him write the last song he will ever write.
Before Ronnie's dad dies, Ronnie tells him of her decision to attend Julliard to study music which is conveniently located near Columbia where Will goes to school.
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