Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) doesn’t come from a typical family. Her parents are rockers, both bred for hard music and set on bringing her up in the same world. And for a while, Mia is. She is ushered around their concerts (they used to have a well-known rock band) and they call her their “first groupie.” But something happens in the early stages of her life that changes things forever. Mia discovers a cello. And it’s love at first sight. From that moment, Mia devotes her time to learning how to play and she injects her ears with classical tunes from artists like the great Beethoven. Her life is a sound of sweet, sweet symphony. Then, everything changes. A car crash occurs on a snowy day, and she quickly finds herself in the middle of an out-of-body experience. Now looking upon the body of herself and her family in the hospital as the doctors race against time, Mia must decide if she wants to stay on earth or go to the light. It’s also a huge flashback. The phrase, “Your entire life flashes before your eyes” is the main driving force of this plot as she reminisces her moments on earth.
This movie is based on Gayle Forman’s novel, and as could be feared from a young adult novel with a supernatural twist, it’s really sappy and melodramatic. So much so that it nearly drowns the good parts out completely. And this not an attack on romantic drama. I love when a film can convey a relationship on screen with magnetic chemistry between its leads. But in If I Stay, I never once felt a connection with the characters to really make me care (excluding the two’s introductory scene in the beginning in which Moretz nails the sweet and sensitive side to a shy teenage girl.) And there were times throughout the movie when I did feel that Moretz really cared about the material, and her performance is one that really saved it from utter failure. As a fan of Moretz’s work in movies like Let Me In, Hugo, Kick-Ass, and the underrated Kick-Ass 2, it gives me to joy to report that Moretz does a terrific job at carrying the movie with a firm hand.
Jamie Blackely doesn’t do bad work as Adam, Mia’s boyfriend and complicated touring musician, but he gives nothing that memorable. It’s mostly in the dialogue, which seems to be ripped straight out of a Nicholas Sparks novel (maybe Forman’s book is just as melodramatic.) So it isn’t exactly his fault that his lines reek of familiar and unrealistic qualities. Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard do fine at playing Mia’s rocker parents, Leonard being the most memorable due to that crazy awesome beard. The best supporting performance in the film comes from Stacy Keach (he played Wallenquist in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For). His one main scene in which he speaks his heart to Mia’s unconscious body is one of moving emotion.
Unfortunately, those working moments only come a few times. The majority of If I Stay is a melodramatic romantic drama that proves to be eye rolling for anyone over the age of thirteen. Lines of dialogue are terribly overdramatic. “I don’t give a shit about your clothes, Mia,” Adam says. “Who you are today is the same girl I fell in love with yesterday.” It’s during these moments that the movie becomes a bummer for taking its cool, albeit familiar concept (we’ve kind of seen it before in The Lovely Bones) and putting it on the backburner in exchange for a central focus on its melodramatic storyline.
The movie does have a nice way of presenting its music, though. Remember the scene in The Avengers in which the Helicarrier is flying through the night sky to find Loki while The String Quartet No. 13 played ceremonially in the backdrop? It’s music like that that takes prominence in If I Stay, and the film does a nice job at conveying that. After watching it, I had a desire to go home and listen to classical music, which I am doing at this very moment. Also, something that transfers incredibly well to the screen is when two characters in love take walks together, kissing while bundled up in winter clothes, precipitation falling around them. There’s something about it that just looks beautiful on film, and it’s something I liked in If I Stay. But there’s no overlooking the awful dialogue and the film’s flawed reliance on melodrama.
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