Dr. Donna Copeland’s
CHLOE GRACE MORETZ MIREILLE ENOS
JAMIE BLACKLEY JOSHUA LEONARD
if i stay…
Finally, a teenage novel adaptation that strays far away from the accepted norm. If I Stay is based on the book of the same name by Gayle Forman, and its biggest problem is being too sophisticated for intended audiences while appearing to be another teenage romance. It’s the strong family dynamic that Forman and screenwriter Shauna Cross elaborate on within the film that caught my attention. We finally see parents that are unique, enriching their kids with morals and values by encouragement, involvement and sacrifice. Beyond that, it’s Moretz, who is only 17, who continues to be one of the strongest, most talented young actors in the business. This is a girl who isn’t afraid of any role, character or challenge and she hasn’t even hit adulthood yet.
“Isn’t it amazing how life is one thing, and then in an instant it becomes something else..?” Mia Hall (Moretz) was an extraordinary 17-year-old girl who had just gotten an audition at Julliard, torn between staying with her family and boyfriend in Portland, or perusing her musical dreams in New York. Yet on a snow day where the entire family decided to spend the day together, tragedy struck on the highway. “If this kid wakes up she is waking up an orphan,” Mia hears the doctors say. Standing outside her body watching the emergency crews cover up members of her family and watching loved ones grieve, she must decide whether to stay in a life that will be marked by tragedy or go be with the rest of her departed loved ones.
Most films use flashbacks in a narrative to give more detail to events happening in the present. If I Stay does exactly the opposite, as the entire film is told in flashback, and periodically flashes to the present, giving heavier weight to Mia's tough decision. It’s not until the latter part of the film that the present scenes become gripping. The heart of the film is following Mia and her musical family up until the point of the accident. Her relationship with local band front man Adam (Blackley) is as gripping and mature as they come. It’s far beyond the type of connection and romance we saw in Twilight, Hunger Games or Divergent; it’s a relationship worth living or dying for.
In the trailer, which brilliantly uses the song “Say Something” by A Great Big World, the film is introduced like Ghost or the forgotten teen flick The Invisible, but it distances itself from both by steering away from stereotypical elements like walking through people and objects or finding that one person who can see or feel you. First time feature film director R.J. Cutler really balances the emotion, the drama and the harmony of the characters and the stressful situation. As Twilight was to Washington, Portland is almost a character itself within If I Stay as city, the weather and the boundaries constantly affect the characters. It’s far too smart to be labeled a teen romance, yet I also worry on first look that it might not appeal to adults. Both demographics should be sitting in front of this film and discussing its themes of family, sacrifice and love after drying your eyes. Final Thought – An emotional gut punch with a powerhouse performance from Moretz.
By: Dustin Chase
I hadn’t really expected much from If I Stay beforehand, but after just a few minutes into it, I was mesmerized, which lasted throughout the rest of the film. I think it was less the mystical that grabbed my attention (although the technique of portraying Mia’s out-of-body experience is impressive), than it was the authenticity of the characters and situations, as well as the model of good parenting—something in short supply in the movies today.
Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a teenager who keenly sees herself as different from her peers; she is into Beethoven and classical cello music in general, so spends a fair amount of her time practicing rather than mixing with her peers. Fortunately, she has a bosom buddy, Kim (Liana Liberato), who accepts her completely, but also encourages her to taste life more fully. This is true of her parents as well, in that, despite the fact that they were heavy into the rock music scene in their younger years, they have fostered Mia’s interest in the cello. It is refreshing to see the parenting approach of Mia’s dad (Joshua Leonard) and mom (Mireille Enos). They encourage her without telling her exactly what to do, and they help her see all sides of an issue when she is trying to make up her mind.
A beautiful romance develops when Adam (Jamie Blackley) sees Mia through the window of the music practice room at school. He is entranced with the rapt expression on her face as she plays, and he makes sure he connects with her. He is part of an up-and-coming rock band, Shooting Star, in the Portland scene, and even though his and her musical tastes are different, he feels an intense bond with her. She’s a bit skittish, but he is patient and kind, and wins her over. They have many months together, when the now familiar dilemma arises of her music taking her out of the vicinity where his band is becoming more and more popular. If I Stay captures so well this modern-day challenge, exquisitely and poignantly showing the point of view of each.
When Mia’s family is involved in a car accident, the film takes an intense turn, as the audience enters the waiting room at the hospital, desperately wanting to hear outcomes. The filmmakers cleverly mesh flashbacks of Mia’s life, Mia in a coma, and Mia out of her body observing people and events in the hospital.
There is so much to like about If I Stay—from the script (Shauna Cross) based on Gayle Forman’s novel, to the timely direction (R. J. Cutler) that creatively tells the story, to the excellent music of Heitor Pereira, and to John de Borman’s cinematography. The acting is incredibly good! Chloe Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley give their characters depth and a realness that makes them seem familiar. Stacy Keach as Gramps has one big moment that characterizes what a fine actor he is. The rest of the cast is richly talented and directed as well.
Finally, the film’s going against the expected, time and again, gives it a fresh look at modern life as well as its dilemmas. For instance, having the cellist be female rather than male; juxtaposing classical music with rock; portraying teenage Mia as a complex, three-dimensional person; and showing her teenage boyfriend Adam as a sensitive, thoughtful, patient young man; and I could go on. Another current issue that brings heartbreak is the hospital practice of allowing only family members to be with patients, and barring other loved ones from the room.
A must-see for all moviegoers ages 13 and up.
By Donna R. Copeland