If I Stay: Movie Review
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Stacy Keach, Joshua Leonard
Director: R J Cutler
Based on the Young Adult novel by Gayle Forman of the same name, Kickass' Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Mia, a kid growing up in a musical family.
Her mum and dad (Enos and Leonard) used to be in a local rocker band, her younger brother's into Iggy Pop, but Mia's more classically inclined, with a penchant for the cello which is encouraged not indulged by those around her.
When a snow day is called, the family heads out together for a road trip, but a road accident changes Mia's life - and her family's - forever. Trapped in a coma, Mia must decide whether to return to life or move on.
There's a mix of the quaver of notes and the quiver of hearts (as you'd expect) in this young adult outing as it follows the usual path of first love, obstacles and naivetes.
With its bon mot of "Life is what happens when you're making plans", it plunges into the traditional tropes of the genre but without any real emotion (outside of Grace-Moretz's occasionally vulnerable performance as the prodigy) and with a dollop of cheesiness and stereotyped characters sprinkled liberally within (and plucked from a range of other stories).
Grace-Moretz brings a sensitivity and tangible sense of a life on a precipice during her hospital set scenes, but the flashbacks charting her life as she waits to see if she's got into a prestigious musical college, works through the good and bad of her first relationship with soft-rocker Adam (Blakely) and generally reflects on what's gone occasionally bring the movie into a lull. She manages to channel the uncertainty of diving into any world naturalistically, but the Lovely Bones style framing starts to drag things down into a predictably syrupy mire.
That said, Cutler does relatively good work with the subject matter (pseudo sick lit perhaps) and doesn't ever let the horror of what's going on swamp the movie. But perhaps, that's also some of the real problem here - a lack of real connection and a trite fashion of dealing with a wildly sanitised approach.
While the family flashbacks have a warmth and a corny sense of life (witness a group singalong of Smashing Pumpkins' Today around a campfire in a moment Mia describes as perfect), there's little heart as the rest plays out. The one stand-out moment comes when Stacy Keach's distraught Gramps sits by Mia's bed and pours out all the pent up emotions and repressed sadness that comes in such situations, with his heartbreaking final words mustering all the emotional tone that's needed for the rest of the film. (Though, admittedly, that could send it over the edge into overly mawkish)
Along with the usual cliched lines that are made to make teens swoon, and given the success of The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay will benefit from having an already in-built audience determined to cry their way through the oh-so recognisable and relatable issues of life and love; as a story of a teen facing her own mortality, thanks to some unoriginal imagery (lights outside of the hospital, a white light in the corridors, music on speakers around the ward), it feels too formulaic - despite Grace-Moretz's charismatic performance, If I Stay is just another sanitised dollop of teen / young adult fare.