Review: If I Stay
As far as film titles go, If I Stay lends itself quite naturally to film criticism’s ‘should you stay (home) or should you go (see it)’ core essence. In the case of R.J. Cutler’s film If I Stay, the answer is a definitive no – stay home.
Based on Gayle Forman’s beloved novel of the same name, it tells the Ghost-lite story of seventeen-year-old Mia Hall (a woefully miscast Chloë Grace Moretz) whose young life is altered forever when a tragic car accident places her in a coma, and kills the rest of her immediate family. While in her coma, she recalls the vivid memories of her life, in a bid to determine if she will remain with her loved ones on Earth or will join her dearly departed parents in heaven.
She recounts her intense passion for playing cello from a young age, much to the chagrin of her ex-punk rocker parents Kat (Mireille Enos of Devil’s Knot and World War Z) and Denny (Joshua Leonard, an uncanny ringer for Peter Sarsgaard). Though raised in a warm and loving home, Mia is the prototypical female with which young adult novels are littered. She is withdrawn, insecure and unsure of her innate talents, until a cocky young man forces himself into her life (in this case, the up-and-coming rock star Adam, as played by Brit Jamie Blackley). Their rocky love story is the basis of much of Mia’s decision, and is intended to be the beating heart of the film.
The key problem with the film is that leads Moretz and Blackley have little to no chemistry. For all the sucking face in Mia’s memories (and there is a fair share, Team Adam), their interaction generally seems forced and restrained. There is also much to fault in general with the Adam character. While he may have come across as charming and devoted in the novel, in the film he is cold and alarmingly selfish, with his loyalties to Mia flip-flopping every scene. One often wonders why she would consider staying for Adam in the first place. For the crux of the film to work, their undying love must be believable and palpable, which, sadly, it is not.
Both Blackley and Grace Moretz’s dull screen presences, however, are equally to blame. While she has proven herself with a winsome aura in the Kick Ass films, she is nothing but flat and (unintentionally) lifeless here. She makes Kristen Stewart’s Bella Swan seem like an enchanting siren in comparison.
It is a shame that screenwriter Shauna Cross did not place more of a spotlight on the parental characters, as Enos and Leonard are delightful as the laid-back rock (both musical-wise and metaphorically) to Mia’s stoic classicism. The always-exceptional Stacy Keach also shines in his limited screen time as her grandfather.
Do not stay to watch this film.