Take a Drink: every time there is a voice-over by Mia.
Take a Drink: every time you see a cello.
Take a Drink: every time you hear symphony music.
Do a Shot: when you see Adam wearing eye-liner.
Shogun a Beer: when Adam sucks a bee stinger out of Mia’s hand.
By: Amelia Solomon (Three Beers) –
If I Stay is a weepy teen drama marketed towards teenage girls and thirty-something women, who find themselves sitting at home on a Friday night with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and a pint of Haagen-Dazs. It’s based on the best-selling Young Adult novel of the same name. Unfortunately, like many adaptations for the silver screen (I’m looking at you, The Host), the film does not live up to the accolades the book received. With a screenplay by Shauna Cross, who showed promise with her adaptation of her own novel, Whip It, and delivered laughs with an adaptation of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the film is neither remarkable nor a total train wreck.
If I Stay stars the beautiful, but unassuming, Chloe Grace Moretz as Mia Hall, a high school junior and cello prodigy who has high hopes of attending Julliard. She’s just ended a relationship with her first boyfriend and first love Adam (Jamie Blackley), also a musician, but more of a future punk rock god, when a family outing turns tragic. On a snowy winter day, Mia agrees to spend the day with her parents and younger brother Teddy (Jacob Davies). They drive through the majestic mountains outside Portland, when a truck crashes into their car. Mia is then stuck in a purgatory state roaming the halls of the hospital, where she sees what happens to her family and herself. It becomes apparent that her life will never be the same and she is faced with the decision to leave her world behind or stay and fight for her life.
I have to admit I haven’t read the source material, so I can’t pass judgment on how much Shauna Cross got right. But everyone knows that the book is always better than the film. However, with that being said, Cross delivered a solid script. Through the use of flashbacks during Mia’s purgatory, we get to see the relationship between Mia and Adam develop. Cross depicts the ups and downs of a first love with subtlety; it never comes across as hokey or unbelievable. It feels real and not manufactured. Cross also does a nice job with giving complexity to the character of Mia’s mother, Kat (Mireille Enos). The other family members seem one-dimensional, like the ex-rocker Dad who’s traded in his glory days to raise his kids and the stern grandfather who only lets his guard down around Mia. But Kat is layered. She was once the punk rock groupie, an aging hippie type who wants to be the cool mom, but knows how to be a mother to Mia when needed. She imparts her wisdom to her daughter while not sounding preachy and gives Mia enough room to figure out things for herself. Kat’s best line is “True love’s a bitch.”
Chloe Grace Moretz reminds me of Abigail Breslin and Dakota Fanning. She carries the film well, and is a natural girl next door type with a beautiful essence that she hasn’t fully grown into yet. I expect more to come from her in the next few years, as long as she continues to pick the right projects and doesn’t just follow the money.
Director R.J. Cutler did well by capturing the indie music scene and nicely ties the songs Adam sings to the emotional relationship between Mia and Adam. He also was wise to work with Cinematographer John de Borman, whose masterful shots of the snow-covered trees during the ill-fated road-trip are downright mesmerizing. It’s rare that teen dramas exhibit stellar cinematography or make that an integral part of their film, but If I Stay bucks this trend. The effort that was made into setting up artistic shots, like when Mia and Adam first kiss in front of an abstract red sculpture, does not go unnoticed.
The dialogue in the film reminds me of the complaints that the television show Dawson’s Creek received when it first aired, which were that teenagers don’t talk like that. That’s what I found myself saying when Mia and Adam first get together. For example, Mia tells Adam, “Why do I get this feeling you’re going to mess up my life?” Adam replies, “A little mess never hurt anybody.” It’s poetic, but it’s certainly not realistic. It’s most likely these lines were lifted directly from the novel, and although they may work in a romantic literary sense they seem somewhat far-fetched in a teen drama.
A film like this, where the main character has to make a choice to stay and live or move on to another unknown world, can’t help but be predictable. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the novel or not, you know that the agony that Mia is under to make this monumental decision is all for naught. Because in order for If I Stay to satisfy the viewers it can only end one way. Unfortunately, that means it becomes difficult to buy into the high stakes of Mia’s decision, which is what the entire film hinges on. In fact, the flashbacks that give us a window into Mia’s last year and a half become more interesting and connect the viewer with the character of Mia more deeply than any ICU coma scenes. The majority of the hospital scenes feel encumbering, like a prison, and it’s elating when we get back to the real story, the one of a first love.
Despite the fact that the teenage girls next to me were sobbing uncontrollably, I didn’t even get teary eyed and I cry every time I see Little Women and watch Winona Ryder’s Joe dump Christian Bale’s Laurie. If you’re looking for a diversion, want to relive the angst you felt during your first love experience, and want to hear a decent soundtrack, then sneak right into the PG-13 If I Stay.