“If I Stay” is a pretty depressing teen romance about a young couple who love, lose, and one of them might die. It’s based on one of those “YA” (Young Adult) books that are so hot as film projects right now. There’s a temptation to compare it to “The Fault in Our Stars,” another teen romance where the characters spent a lot of time on the brink of death. That film was sweeter, sadder and made more sense than this one. “If I Stay” would be wise to distance itself from the superior film unless it wants its legacy to be that of a cheap knockoff.
The “present” version of the story follows Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz), a teenage cello prodigy, as she and her family are involved in a horrible car crash. Mia is thrown into a coma, but has an out-of-body experience where she rushes to the hospital to check on the rest of her family. She’ll occasionally see the bright light of the afterlife and debates going into it. I can understand the film not letting us know what exactly is on the other side of that light, but I wish we knew what Mia thinks is on the other side so we can better understand her internal struggle.
Much of the film consists of flashbacks. We meet Mia’s parents (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos), former rockers who gave up their dream without hesitation to become loving parents. We also see Mia fall in love with Adam (Jamie Blackley), an aspiring rocker who is enamored with the way Mia plays cello and oddly little else. They go through a cute courting process where they challenge each other to appreciate the other’s music but their relationship hits the rocks when their futures seem to be taking them in opposite directions. His career takes off and he needs to spend a lot of time touring, meanwhile her cello skills might get her into Julliard. The two aren’t even speaking at the time of the accident. In the present, Mia’s decision whether or not to wake up is going to be largely influenced by his feelings for her. (and also the decision from Julliard).
For me, one of the biggest problems with the movie was Adam. I didn’t find him interesting or likeable. In his first or second scene, he exhibits poor social skills when talking to a friend of Mia’s. I also didn’t care for his music, but then again neither does Mia and she can overlook it. I thought he was going to be the guy that Mia thinks she’s in love with before realizing that she doesn’t need that jerk. If this were a romantic comedy, she would probably realize that the right guy was her shy friend who was by her side the whole time.
The pacing is all off. Almost every flashback scene is some kind of musical discussion, and they can’t all qualify as major life events. Frankly a lot of them make the movie feel padded. The “present” storyline takes forever to unfold, with scene after scene of Mia being scared and devastated with little development. Every time we think the story is going to evolve, it just cuts to another flashback.
It’s hard to find things to like about this movie, but there are a few. Stacy Keach, playing it sweet for once as Mia’s grandfather, has some powerful scenes. I guess if you like cello music, there’s lots of good cello music (though it’s not Moretz playing). And I’m not made of stone, I did sympathize with Mia losing and gaining hope for her very life. None of this “saves” the movie, but it does make it a bit more tolerable.
If I could sum up “If I Stay” in one word, that word would be “mushy.” Characters are constantly talking about how hopelessly devoted they are to each other, be they family, lovers or friends. Individually these scenes are harmless, even touching and effective. But when combined en masse, they become repetitive and grating. The audience for this movie is teenage girls, which admittedly leaves me out, but I think that even they will see that this is a particularly weak romance and drama.
One and a Half Stars Out of Five. “If I Stay” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material. Its running time is 146 minutes that feels more like three hours.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.