Playing a troubled teenager in "The Last Song," Miley Cyrus is venturing onto the ledge of maturity. Career-wise, it's a dangerous place to be.

The singer-actress has been inseparable from her starring role in Disney's television series "Hannah Montana," about an average teen (also named Miley) who moonlights as a famous pop star. The show, aimed at ages 6 to 14, according to Disney, has positioned Cyrus as a wholesome version of Britney Spears.

That image is fading. First came Cyrus' bedsheet-only photo in a 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. Then came last summer's brief but suggestive stripper-pole maneuver at the Teen Choice Awards. Both episodes caused hand-wringing among parents, if not their young daughters.

But the daughters are the fans, and Cyrus, 17, must grow with them to keep them. "The Last Song" seems tailored for this. Her character is slightly older (almost college-age), somewhat troubled (a shoplifting arrest) and spends a lot of time kissing a shirtless hunk (played by Liam Hemsworth).

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Should Cyrus be worried that "The Last Song" isn't shaping up as a hit? That depends. It took several flops for Elizabeth Taylor to grow from the little jockey in "National Velvet" into the sex-starved Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Then again, "Miss Annie Rooney," featuring Shirley Temple's first on-screen kiss in 1942, bombed so badly that the teenage actress briefly retired; her career never quite recovered.

Regardless, Cyrus is moving forward. Already preparing to exit "Hannah Montana," she recently announced that her next album will be her last. Her plan: to focus on movies. - Rafer Guzmán