[Screen It]

"IF I STAY"
(2014) (Chloe Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley) PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A comatose teenager drifts between life and death after being a passenger in a terrible car crash.
PLOT:
Mia Hall (CHLOE GRACE MORETZ) is a high-school junior who aspires to be a great concert cellist. She has dreams of going to Julliard and eventually performing live in large venues. Her world is turned upside down when Adam (JAMIE BLACKLEY), a senior classmate with an up-and-coming rock n' roll band, takes a liking to her. They fall in love just as Adam's star is on the rise on the Portland music scene. He and his band start to book tour dates in other cities, which causes friction in their love relationship.

Mia's world is then thrown into tragic turmoil when a car she is a passenger in is hit by another vehicle on an icy stretch of road. The crash kills her mother, Kat (MIREILLE ENOS), and her father, Denny (JOSHUA LEONARD), and leaves her little brother, Teddy (JAKOB DAVIES), fighting for his life. Mia has an extended out-of-body experience that begins at the crash scene, continues in the hospital, and eventually includes brief trips back in time to events that have impacted her life.

She eventually begins to suspect that it might be her choice whether to wake up from the coma she is in and live a life without her family or move on to the next phase of existence. As she struggles with the choice, she observes all the people still alive who love her, including: a grief-stricken Adam; her best friend, Kim (LIANA LIBERTO); and her beloved Gramps (STACY KEACH).

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I am generally known in the press row as the reviewer who responds more emotionally to movies than intellectually. If a movie made me feel something, I am more apt to look past its plot holes or leaps in logic or botched premises and give the flick a recommendation. So, I am a bit surprised by my reaction to "If I Stay," the new weepie starring Chloe Grace Moretz as a teen cellist prodigy whose family dies in a horrific car accident that also leaves her comatose and teetering on the brink of the Here and the Hereafter. She finds herself a spirit, separated from her body and able to observe everything going on around her.

The film isn't as ruthless at jerking the tears as the previous Dying Teenager Movie from earlier this summer, "The Fault in Our Stars." I mean, that flick had cancer-stricken Shailene Woodley climbing the long steps of the Anne Frank house with her oxygen tank, all the while refusing help from her terminally ill boyfriend with the mechanical leg. Beat that "Love Story!"

Ahem. "If I Stay" is a bit slower and more methodical at putting the cinematic equivalent of chopped onions beneath your eyes and nose. Based on the Gayle Forman bestseller, it backloads its biggest emotional moments for the last third of the film. But by that point, the film had already confounded me because I wasn't quite sure of its own internal rules and logic. Remember the flick "Ghost?" That movie did a great job once it separated Patrick Swayze's spirit from his body of setting up the rules of its ethereal world. By contrast, in "If I Stay," the film is almost completely unconcerned with its own fantastical elements.

I guess I just checked out of this one too many times to muster any great enthusiasm or emotion. I kept wondering things throughout, asking mental questions in my head. Questions like: Does Moretz's comatose Mia Hall really have the ability to choose whether or not she is going to live or die? How much control does she have? The film is told largely in flashback after the accident occurs. Sometimes Mia is shown observing past moments? Other times, it's just a straight-forward, literal narrative flashback. What gives?

And there are just so many times in the film where she times doors opening and closing just right to pass from room to room and floor to floor of the hospital. Can she walk through doors and walls? If you were suddenly a ghost, wouldn't you try? At several points, she is even seen physically touching various characters. Most of the time, they don't react. But in one instance, her grandfather (Stacy Keach, in a really moving and understated performance) does.

Finally, the film makes it clear that Mia is walking about the hospital and privy to a number of conversations that anyone unconscious would not know about. She learns the fates of her mother, father, and younger brother while in this state. She listens in on a touching conversation of regret between her boyfriend and her best friend. But that begs the question ... if she does wake up in the end (and I'm not saying she does), will she be able to retain those memories? If so ... wouldn't that be one of THE most incredible stories ever?! Forget the cello scholarship to Julliard. I'm talkin' book deal!

Unfortunately, these are all things the film has no interest in dramatizing, posing, or answering. And I became frustrated with it as a result. True, scores of young 'uns around me were bawling their eyes out during the film's third act. Moretz has blossomed into a really capable female lead, and Jamie Blackley as her good guy rock n' roller boyfriend Adam has the market cornered in shaggy-headed earnestness. And while some may find fault in these stars' low-key performances, I thought it was refreshing that they didn't speak in a serious of snarky quips and wise-beyond-their-years platitudes.

It's clear everyone believed in the characters and the emotional arc of the piece here, and that's where the lion's share of the focus is in R.J. Cutler's direction and Shauna Cross' screenplay. A part of me feels a touch bad that I couldn't turn my intellect off on this one and un-tether my heart. But I just didn't feel it this time. Consequently, I rate it a near-miss 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed August 18, 2014 / Posted August 22, 2014


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