As many of you know by now, I’m usually a sucker for tear jerkers or teen romances (or according to Clayton, romance films/romantic comedies in general), as partially evidenced earlier this year by my deep love of The Fault in Our Stars (my review is here if you haven’t seen it yet). However, despite having all of the elements required to speak to me and bring out emotion, If I Stay left me cold and dry. As I said to someone on Twitter, it had all of the ingredients, but the broth just came out bland. Director R.J. Cutler and scribe Shauna Cross oddly enough spend very little time with the actual plot, devoting major amounts of the film to flashbacks, which sometimes are enjoyable, but really don’t factor much into the story. I’m glad to see Chloë Grace Moretz with her first real leading role, and while she’s solid, the supporting cast winds up sometimes upstaging her, and that’s not good. It’s clear that this movie wants to capitalize on the success of the aforementioned TFiOS (besides being another tearjerker YA adaptation), but it falls way short. I didn’t hate If I Stay, but it is a pretty mediocre flick and not particularly worth your time.
Teenager Mia Hall (Moretz) is living a mostly happy life. She loves her former rocker parents Kat (Mireille Enos) and Denny (Joshua Leonard), is a very talented musician in her own right, and is waiting to hear if she got into Juilliard. She’s got a protective best friend in Kim (Liana Liberato) that loves her and also is dealing with her first romantic relationship, potentially splitting from emerging rock star Adam (Jamie Blackley). Nothing too out of the ordinary, but that’s about to change. Mia and her parents, along with her younger brother Teddy (Jakob Davies) are involved in a massive car accident. Everyone is critically injured, with Mia having an out of body experience where she must decide whether or not she wants to fight for life. While she wanders the hospital, she narrates flashbacks that show us previous events in her time on Earth. The actual decision on her part comes pretty quickly, but a ton of time is spent filling in blanks in her life. It’s a strange set up, though it does allow for some nice musical sequences. I will give it that. I just wish it was more effective in bringing out the emotion that it clearly wants to bring out.
I’ve long been a fan of Chloë Grace Moretz, but this isn’t the ideal role for her. Honestly, I’d rather her costar Liana Liberato (who I’m also a big fan of…go watch her in Trust for an example of her talents) have gotten the role. Liberato steals her scenes, regardless, and while Moretz is hardly ineffective, she’s more low key than you’d like for an emotive role such as this one. It doesn’t help that her romantic partner Jamie Blackley is really dull, but I expected a bit more from Moretz. She’s right in the middle, with the aforementioned Liberato as well as parental units Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard leaving more of an impression. They’re playing way too cool parents, but they do their bests to make them real, while Liberato shows off both emotion and humor. She deserves her own vehicle one day soon. Stacy Keach also has one killer scene as Mia’s grandfather, but he’s wasted otherwise. Aside from the forgettable performance by Blackley, the cast also includes the aforementioned Jakob Davies as well as Aisha Hinds, Ali Milner, Gabrielle Rose, to name a few. The cast doesn’t elevate the material much though, and that’s a shame.
Director R.J. Cutler and screenwriter Shauna Cross are not subtle about their intentions here, but I do wish that they’d been more effective in their execution. If I Stay is crying out to you for big feelings, but I was strangely unmoved. Considering how easy a target I am sometimes and my positive feelings towards the star of the film, it clearly indicates a shortcoming on the movie’s part. I did like the songs that Blackley’s character sings, so the musical element of the flick does work. The dramatic part just doesn’t. Maybe it’s something better handled in the novel of the same name? Either way, it didn’t translate. Ironically, the humorous scenes with Mia and her parents are the most effective. Go figure. They also structure things in such a strange way, they limit how effective each scene could possibly be. Odd, to say the least.
In the end, If I Stay will probably have some appeal for fans of the book or the teenage girl audience in general, but I have my doubts that it’ll be a crossover success of any note. There were moments that suggested something better, but the end result is mediocrity. You can definitely do worse than If I Stay, considering it’s the middle of August, but you can do a lot better too, so I don’t think this is required viewing whatsoever.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!