These types of films should come with the tagline, “Feel oh so good and sad about this movie… or die!” Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard and Stacy Keach star in If I Stay.
Director – R. J. Cutler
Screenplay – Shauna Cross
Based on the novel If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Producer – Denise Di Novi & Alison Greenspan
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) is stuck a crossroads: should she pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path that leads to her rebellious boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley). Things change immediately, though, when she and her family are involved in a car wreck, killing her parents – Kat (Mireille Enos) and Denny (Joshua Leonard) – and her brother Teddy (Jakob Davies).
Having survived the accident, Mia barely hangs on as she lies in coma, yet she wakes up in an out-of-body experience that has her revisiting her past. Caught between life and death, Mia must decide whether she should let go and die or fight to live.
If I stay is another YA adaptation (Of course!!) designed to tug – well, more like yank and yank and yank – at the heartstrings of the fan faithful. Think Ghost for the kids. That film was no masterpiece, but stacked next to If I Stay, it’s Casablanca.
It’s not that I had a problem following R. J. Cutler’s time-jumping sequences from Mia stuck in a coma in the present to her flashbacks, although they might be a distraction to some viewers. The problem is this film’s mawkish and inauthentic tone, which is practically threatening you with a beat down if you don’t feel the slightest bit of ooey-gooey sentimentality deep down inside your blackened, hollowed out, heartless soul.
I wanted to punch a cute puppy after seeing this. Damn this movie for bringing that out of me.
From the rebellious boyfriend, the hipster parents, to the lead girl yearning for your sympathy as she mopes about what decision she should make, most every character here rings false. Writer Shauna Cross never really lets us get to know any of them aside from the occasional name-dropping they do. Who cares about character depth when you can just say Beethoven, Yo Yo Ma, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, or a Ramones song and call it good? Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard are both talented additions here, but they’re stuck with having to play the parents that are so obnoxiously desperate to be cool. They encourage curfew-breaking and have acoustic campfire jams to Smashing Pumpkins “Today” (which would’ve been better if they broke out into “Bullet with Butterfly Wings” or “Zero” afterward). Aren’t they rad?! Jamie Blackley seems like a nice kid in real life, but his turn as Adam was simply annoying. He’s the so-called rebellious, pop-punk rocker boyfriend, who’s more selfish whiny brat than anything, but he actually comes off so soft-edged, Tickle Me Elmo seems more hardcore. At times there’s an ounce of chemistry that flickers between him and Moretz, but overall you just don’t buy their “We’re destined to be together forever!” star-crossed lovers relationship.
Romeo and Juliet didn’t speak as much sweeping romantic hyperbole as these two do.
Despite the odd dual role she’s playing of Mia in the flesh and Mia in spirit (Did you know that ghosts need sleep too?), Chloe Grace Moretz has a likeable presence that could service her quite well in film, but I’m still not yet convinced she’s capable of carrying a film on her own. That may change over time, and to her credit, the effort from her is clear, but there are times where she’s definitely overreaching. Most of the fault shouldn’t be laid on her, though, when she’s working with a hokey script.
We’ll see what she can do opposite Denzel Washington in next month’s The Equalizer. Better bring your A-game, girl.
In the only genuine performance of the film, Stacy Keach plays Moretz’s grandfather. In just two short scenes, he shows more heart and emotion than the rest of this film could ever muster. A heartbreaking scene between him and his comatose granddaughter is handled with achingly beautiful authenticity. Then again, it’s just one scene out of the rest of the movie.
Hold on. I know you’re all about to throw my 3 1/2 rating for The Fault in Our Stars at me. That film had its trappings, of course, but those occasional trappings were elevated by a talented cast, some fresh dialogue and the fact that it didn’t shy away from the harsh realities of cancer.
If I Stay is sure to get the waterworks roaring out of its target demographic, but tears created out of maudlin manipulation aren’t tears that are earned. Chloe Grace Moretz tries her best, but is overall stuck in a contrived movie that demands your two sizes small heart grow three sizes after watching this. A script cluttered with cookie-cutter characters, cue the tears beats that lack any true emotion and an underwhelming conclusion didn’t get that from me. Not since May’s Maleficent, have I ever been more envious of one stuck in a coma.
I give If I Stay a D (★).