Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking
Yet another adaptation of a YA novel, If I Stay is based on the top-selling novel by Gayle Forman. Engaging characters and smart directing choices actually allow this story to translate very well to the big screen.
Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a talented and hyper focused cellist who lives with her punk rocker parents and little brother in Portland, OR. When she is a junior in high school, she meets Adam (Jamie Blackley). He sees her practicing her cello, totally absorbed in the music, and falls for her on the spot. He woos her with tickets to the symphony and so begins their grand romance. Adam is the frontman of a local rock band that is rapidly gaining notoriety. He’s a bit of a “big man on campus” and so we have a slightly formulaic young adult romance story on our hands.
We watch as the two navigate the tricky waters of first love. Adam’s rock career is starting to take off while Mia still has a year of school left. Top that off with the fact that she’s dreaming about heading to Julliard in New York and you have an emotional, angsty young adult relationship constantly on the edge of implosion.
All of this, though, is back story. It comes to us in pieces. We’re seeing it now because it’s all in Mia’s head. Mia and her family decide to take a drive and visit her grandparents since school is closed for a snow day. On that drive, they are in a terrible accident. Mia has an out-of-body experience and watches herself being taken, comatose, to the hospital. She stands helplessly by and tries to reconcile what is happening with the fact that she has no control over any of it. Why can’t she wake up? Where is her family?
A dedicated and beautifully portrayed ER nurse leans down and whispers into Mia’s ear that they are doing all they can and that the secret of whether she will pull out of this or not depends on her. It’s up to her to fight. Will she choose to fight and stay, or will she let go? As she relives those moments from her past, will she decide she still has much to live for or will she decide she is ready to be at peace?
I have to give some serous kudos to the production team and cast. Mia and her family have incredibly chemistry! Director R.J. Cutler (Nashville) chose his players well. All of the family scenes feel genuine and for all of the quirks of the characters, the love in this family is paramount. While some will say that her rocker parents were too lax because they joked with her about being hungover or encouraged her to break her curfew, I would like to point out that while they are not a model of conservative morals, they are a strong and loving unit who not only love one another but also genuinely like and support one another. Any time Hollywood shows a functioning and happy two-parent family, it makes me happy.
Additionally, Mia’s parents are so in love with who she is and impressed with her that they almost can’t stand it… BUT they also don’t want her to miss out on the fun and adventure in life. They do push her to be more spontaneous, but it could definitely be argued that they encourage some inappropriate behaviors.
I will say, too, that this movie is an excellent vehicle for Moretz. She appears in nearly every scene and carries about 95% of the story. She’s natural and expressive and very well suited to the role.
Another unexpectedly great thing about the movie (without giving away too much) is that it does a great job of showing a woman standing up for herself in a relationship! I wanted to stand up and cheer for Mia when she didn’t cower and allow her world to end when she had boy trouble. She valued herself and her dreams and made sure that Adam knew they were a priority for her. Moretz and Blackley have excellent chemistry, too, so their scenes together worked very well overall.
So yes, there are some problems with the movie. It isn’t perfect. There’s one particularly cringe-worthy line early in the movie that I honestly think they stole from Twilight. I don’t love that Mia delivered many of her lines to Adam during intimate moments in a raspy whisper (seriously, it was like teenage girl Batman whispering). I also didn’t love that it was a two-hour cry fest. The entire second half of the movie stays constantly angsty and emotional with almost no break for the audience. But even with all of that going on, even knowing this is a movie specifically targeted at tween and teen girls, I found myself invested.
What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie
Here’s where things become tricky. The title of the film, If I Stay, is also the central plot point and theme. Mia must choose whether to live or die. From a Catholic perspective,a life-affirming perspective, it’s not okay that she is giving serious thought to never waking up again.
As much as you can see why she might be leaning that direction, as much as you can empathize with the situation, I don’t necessarily know that “it’s hard and I’m sad” is a great justification for choosing death. Please understand I am not being flip or callous. I understand loss and pain. I understand depression. I simply don’t see them as good excuses for choosing death.
I also think it’s unusual that there are no mentions of God or any kind of afterlife anywhere in the story. The closest we get is the brief glimpse of a bright white light a few times. In a movie that deals with the reality of death, it seems odd that no one so much as says a single prayer anywhere.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie
I think the movie is appropriate for mature young men and ladies ages 12 and up provided that parents are aware that there is some cursing, drinking, and premarital sex in the movie (this is not shown in graphic detail, but it’s very clearly going on).
The car accident is not graphic. In fact, aside from some blood in the snow and some cuts and bruises, the story almost goes out of the way to not be graphic.
That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments
I am a grown woman at a movie for tweens and I’ve cried for like an hour straight. This is unacceptable.
I think I would be friends with these parents if they were real people. I’m pretty certain of it, actually.
Part of me wants to go and read this book now, but my tear ducts have assured me that is not going to happen.
Adam’s band is super awesome, actually.
The jam session where Mia plays the cello around the bonfire is the best thing ever.