So, let me just get this out of the way: I am in no way the target audience for the young adult melodrama, If I Stay. The crowd best suited for this one is, you guessed it, young adults who are probably avid readers of the YA crop of novels much like the one this film was based on, which was written by Gayle Forman. In addition to the starry-eyed teens hungry for adventure and romance, there are also the parents. There is a definite older generation that seems just as willing as their teens to dive into the fantastical love and heartbreak found films like this one. I’m happy (proud even) to say I was the only one not clutching a fistful of tissues at the end of If I Stay. Was I missing something by thinking it was just an extended version of the trailer that’s been circulating for months? Nah.
The film centers on a young cellist named Mia (Chlöe Grace Moretz) as she grapples with the huge life decision of either following her passion and attending Julliard, or throwing it away for the love of her life, rock band front man Adam (played by the way too attractive Jamie Blackley). Due to a horrendous car wreck, Mia is sent into a coma and spends the rest of the film having an out of body experience as she watches over herself on a hospital bed and dwells on her history with Adam. Now the choice Mia is forced to make is whether she gives in and dies or keeps fighting. The film’s flashback structure is pulled off surprisingly well, holding your attention and keeping the narrative moving quickly. I surmise that any true fan of the novel will be entirely pleased with this movie. It’s succinct, emotional, and the leading man is pretty ideal for a good swoon or two. Everything you need for a solid young adult movie.
On the other hand, though, anyone looking for a movie with depth, accomplished acting, or even a halfway decent plot should steer clear of this (yeah, I totally intending that driving pun). The writing borders on laughable. Take, for example, the character structure of Mia. She’s raised by former rocker parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) and feels like an outsider having no interest in any music other than Beethoven. She spends a good portion of the movie whining about how she’s incredibly ordinary, and there’s nothing that sets her apart from anyone else. What’s special about Mia? It couldn’t be the fact that she’s an incredibly skilled cellist that blows everyone away whenever she plays. That’s way too common and boring, so every young girl should totally be able to relate to her. Mia even asks Adam on their first date, “Why me?” Slow your roll, Mia. You guys JUST met. She then keeps pushing and asks him why she gets the feeling Adam is going to “mess up her entire life.” Yikes. His response to that question? Make out sesh, naturally. Sorry to burst your overly humble bubble, Mia, but a rock star falling for an adorable, accomplished cellist makes sense.
Moretz does the best she can with this role, but her character seems to just bounce back and forth between being incredibly shy and flat out sobbing, leaving room for little else in between. The most emotionally touching scene comes from her “Gramps” played by Stacy Keach when he tells the unconscious Mia that he wants her to live but that it’s okay for her to die if she wants to. The scene would have benefited greatly from a more nuanced performance from Moretz, whose sobs in the background become a quick annoyance.
Although there are a myriad issues in this film, it’s perfectly successful as young adult movie and will please anyone who is a serious fan of the genre. For everyone else? I only hope for your sake that this doesn’t accidentally come on T.V. someday when you’re flipping around trying to watch literally anything else.
If I Stay opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Catherine Haas
Catherine Haas is a native Philadelphian who received her master’s in film history from Columbia University. She is a freelance film programmer, writer, and an avid pug enthusiast.