If I Stay

Ghost in the YA Machine: Chloe Grace Moretz stars in this life-or-death teen drama

If I Stay


Directed by R.J. Cutler. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Liana Liberato, Lauren Lee Smith, Jamie Blackley, Aisha Hinds, Joshua Leonard, Aliyah O´Brien, Chelah Horsdal, Gabrielle Rose. Written by Shauna Cross, from the novel by Gayle Forman.

Here’s an earnest teen drama filled with earnest performers reciting earnest dialogue and by the end it’s earnestly overwhelming. While If I Stay is considerably less offensive than The Fault in Our Stars, this year’s other really really serious young adult drama, it’s also pretty much a dud – for those outside of the target demographic, this one is an especially tough sit. 

Major failing: there’s a complete lack of chemistry between the two leads, which isn’t really a fault of the actors but more of a failing of screenwriter Shauna Cross (Whip It, What to Expect When You’re Expecting), adapting Gayle Forman’s bestselling novel, and director R.J. Cutler, a documentarian making his theatrical feature film debut

They seem to take for granted the fact that we should want these kids to be together, and will be rooting for them by the end. But that’s something that never gels. I never thought I’d complain about a lack of long takes of Twilight-esque yearning, of young lovers staring deeply into each other’s eyes, but that kind of thing is exactly what’s missing here. 

If I Stay stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Mia Hall, a high school cellist with super-cool ex-rocker parents (Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard) who falls for current-rocker and schoolmate Adam (Jamie Blackley). You know he’s edgy because he wears a leather jacket and has long hair, but he’s also a big ol’ sweetheart because he treats Mia with such love and respect. 

She likes Beethoven, he likes generic contemporary rock, their friends and family are all down with the pair hooking up… not since Romeo and Juliet has there been such a pair of star-crossed lovers. She wants to go to Juilliard to pursue her dreams, he wants to… uh, his ‘career’ seems to be taking him somewhere else. 

Should she stay or should she go? Now, I’m not sure why all the responsibility rests on Mia’s shoulders – boys, if you can either stick around with your high school band in Podunkburg or follow Chloë Grace Moretz to New York City, I hope you know what to do – but Mia’s big decision is one of the major plot points in the film. 

But lest you think ‘If I Stay’ only refers to that decision that Mia must make, most of the story told mostly through flashback, through awkward where-is-it-coming-from narration, no less, after Mia is hospitalized in a coma following a near-tragic accident. In the hospital, she has a Ghost-like out-of-body experience as she – in spirit form – watches over her comatose body. 

Should she stay? Well, yeah… if the alternative is death. I think we can all agree on that one.

The film, of course, doesn’t care about the logistics of out-of-body experiences, but with a lack of much else of interest unfolding onscreen, my curiosity was peaked. Unlike Patrick Swayze in Ghost, Mia’s spirit cannot pass through walls or manipulate objects – she’s trapped in rooms until someone opens a door to let her out. It’s an interesting concept that the film spends zero time exploring. Not only is the supernatural stuff ill-explained, but there’s no religious angle here, either. 

Moretz (Carrie, Kick-Ass) is likely the best and best-known actress of her generation, but films like If I Stay – which cast her as the prototypical teen heroine – won’t help her make the transition from child star. Still, the film (just like The Fault in Our Stars) has made sizable bank on an extremely modest budget, suggesting more of these are yet to come. Just what we need. Nicholas Sparks fodder for a pre-teen audience. 

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