REVIEW WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER
For 21st Century Media
Adapted from the 2009 YA best-seller novel of the same name by Gayle Forman, “If I Stay” focuses on a high school senior, Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the unexpected challenges that she has to confront.
Mia is a highly disciplined ultra-talented cellist, who attends a public high school in Portland. She lives with her bohemian parents (Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard) and her younger brother, Teddy (Jakob Davies). Mia is vying for admission to the prestigious The Julliard School for the Performing Arts.
Then, everything goes topsy turvy in Mia’s world. Mia, who is supposedly a shy, socially maladroit teen, catches the eye of Adam (Jamie Blackley). She expresses incredulity that this local rock star, would be attracted to her. However, the relationship flourishes. Apparently, Mia’s mother and father are the only parents in history, who support their daughter having a romantic relationship with an aspiring rock musician. How will Mia reconcile the prospect of matriculating at Julliard with her fledgling relationship with an Oregon-based musician?
This dilemma is eclipsed one morning. Mia and her immediate family are involved in a fateful accident on a snowy road. Their car spins out of control and crashes. Mia has an out of body experience, in which she witnesses paramedics pulling her unconscious self and her family out of the wrecked auto. What does the future hold in store for Mia? Will she survive? What about her parents and brother? The film focuses on this uncertain life and death struggle. Assuming a disembodied and seemingly proto-spectral form, she is invisible and inaudible to full-fledged mortals. Mia watches as they try to revive her corporeal essence.
At the tender age of 17, Chloe Grace Moretz has grown into an exceptionally fine actor. Moretz made a splash, portraying Hit-Girl, Nicholas Cage’s daughter in “Kick-Ass.” Seeing this young ingenue spit out profanities with abandon generated quite a bit of controversy. However, she did so with such innocence that is seemed divorced from the usual negative baggage associated with obscenities. Subsequently, she essayed the roles of a lonely vampire in “Let Me In”; a petulant teen in the cinematic version of “Dark Shadows,” and the eponymous lead in the remake of “Carrie.”
What makes Moretz so remarkable in these roles? Although she is conventionally attractive, Moretz embodies the uncanny capacity to portray characters who have been ostracized from society. Moretz simultaneously combines the qualities of wholesomeness with edginess, vulnerability with self-assurance, innocence with sensuality. In “If I Stay,” she portrays a shy music geek, who is an outsider to the high school social scene. This is a stretch for someone as strikingly pulchritudinous and poised as Moretz. Yet, she pulls it off with aplomb and makes her character entirely plausible.
Alas, casting Moretz is fraught with problems. There is simply no male counterpart with her unique skill set. Moretz simply blows Jamie Blackley off the screen. This makes it difficult to believe that she is enthralled with someone plagued with such a lackluster persona. Don’t blame Blackley, virtually all of the adult actors are similarly eclipsed by Moretz. There is one notable exception. Aisha Hinds portrays a nurse, who whispers words of encouragement to the comatose teen as she is wheeled into the operating room for emergency surgery, “Whatever you do, whether you live or die, it’s all up to you.” Despite the circumscribed screen time, Hinds delivers her lines with memorable resonance.
R.J. Cutler seems like a curious choice to direct “If I Stay.” The documentarian, who previously helmed “The September Issue” and “The World According to Dick Cheney,” makes his narrative feature debut with this film. He uses a disconcertingly flat visual style, which seems ill-suited for the quasi-supernatural subject material.
“If I Stay” boasts another remarkably strong performance by Chloe Grace Moretz. It boosts an otherwise undistinguished film to a notch slightly above mediocrity.
“If I Stay”
**1/2 PG-13 (for thematic elements and some sexual material) 106 minutes
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.