If I Stay
Release date: 22 August 2014
Directed by: R. J. Cutler
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley
Based on the novel If I Stay by Gayle Forman
DiNovi Pictures/Warner Bros.
Based on Gayle Forman's best-selling young adult novel, If I Stay follows talented young cellist Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) after her family is involved in a fatal car accident. Her spirit wanders the halls of the hospital where her body lies in a coma, watching her loved ones grieve, remembering her life, and trying to decide whether she will wake up or go towards the light.
While the film adaptation is fairly faithful to the events of the novel, the forgettable dialogue fails to hit the right resonance. Lip-biting Mia comes across as stuck-up, pretentious, and flat--a disservice to Moretz, whose Hit-Girl character from the Kick-Ass movies proves she is capable of a wider range of expression. Her handsome rocker boyfriend Adam (the scrumptious Jamie Blackley) is by turns charming and cheesy. Their on-screen attraction smolders, but moments that should have flared fizzle instead. Fans of the book might swoon over their mawkish declarations of love, but the screenplay produces nothing even remotely as memorable or quotable as The Fault in Our Stars's simple but heartfelt "Okay? Okay."
The Halls's family life is much more compelling than Mia's budding romance. The adults surrounding her are drummer-turned-teacher dad Denny (Joshua Leonard), riot-grrrl-turned-travel-agent mom Kat (Mireille Enos), and the ever-supportive Gramps (Stacy Keach). Enos burns with pent-up energy, from her vibrant growl of a voice to her flaming hair to her staccato walk. Leonard's eyes light up with awe and pride as Denny realizes his daughter is a much more talented musician than he will ever be. Keach's bedside scene is the only one that moves me to tears: Gramps pours his heartbreak out and, just for a moment, pierces the veil between himself and Mia's lingering soul.
A killer soundtrack could have saved If I Stay from its own snoozefest. It's serviceable, don't get me wrong. The poignant Saint-Saëns "Le Cygne", other cello pieces, and even the songs composed for Adam's fictional band Willamette Stone manage to imbue some otherwise lifeless scenes. But for a story set in musically rich Portland, Oregon, one has to wonder why no Portlandian bands are on the soundtrack.
Some visual choices were also a tad confusing: the outfit Mia wears for their snow-day outing is much more suited to a breezy California winter than snowy Oregon; a tight, too-bright close-up of Mia screaming in the hospital's hallway frames her more like a spoiled brat having a tantrum than a genuinely distraught young adult who has lost everything she holds dear. Top that off with Moretz's face super-imposed on someone else's body whenever Mia has to play the cello, and you have a hot mess of a movie.
I wanted to like it, I really did. But everything was too clean, while the audience was reminded now and then that life is messy, and that that's just how it is. Adam's tidy rehearsal space, perfectly-coiffed Mia (who looks like she spends an hour at the salon every morning before school), and the Halls's too-neat cottage would have benefited from a little grunge to make the setting more believable. In the end, I'd rather have watched a not-so-pretty cellist with medium acting chops, a script that better translates the emotions and not the plot, and a less-glossy production.
If I Stay is in theaters now.