If I Stay

Genre: Drama

Director: R. J. Cutler

Writer: Shauna Cross, based on the novel by Gayle Forman

Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato, Aisha Hinds, Stacy Keach, Lauren Lee Smith, Gabrielle Rose, Jakob Davies, Gabrielle Cerys Haslett

Running Length: 107 minutes

Synopsis: Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam (Jamie Blackley).  But what should have been a carefree family drive changes everything in an instant, and now her own life hangs in the balance.  Caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate.

Review: There’s a certain familiarity that comes with YA adaptations these days – it’s almost invariably set in the perspective of the teenage girl (that is the target demographic, after all), and regardless of the quality of the movie, the soundtrack will always be quite listenable, though bordering on the mournful, emo side. If I Stay does not vary from these conventions at all, but despite the best intentions of first-time feature film director Cutler (who had previously cut his teeth on documentaries) and the concerted thespian effort of Chloe Grace Moretz, the film comes across as being just a hair too manipulative and mawkish to earn a solid recommendation.

The narrative structure deviates from the norm – although it starts with a typical first person narrative, the catastrophic accident that lands Mia comatose in hospital also seems to cause an out of body experience for her, and the remainder of the film sees Mia moving about metaphysically (so to speak) in the hospital, unseen and unheard by those around her, coupled with multiple flashbacks to key moments in her life to date. This structure makes it different from most other YA adaptations, but fails to hide the fact that the story is really quite banal, with most of the flashbacks failing to resonate emotionally, despite the rather insistent efforts of the scribe. Therein lies the biggest problem of If I Stay, that it feels way too artificial, from the too-hip parents, the too-cute couple and the incessantly eloquent bon mots that seem to tumble out at will from all the characters’ mouths.

Chloe Grace Moretz is a relatively young actress (just 17 years old) but has been rather prolific of late, and her strong work in If I Stay is one of the key reasons why the film remains watchable. Setting aside the fact that Mia is way too precocious to be believable, Moretz manages to put together a nuanced performance that is far better than the source material would require. Moretz manages to outclass almost everyone in the cast, and the thespian shortcomings of Jamie Blackley in particular are unfortunately thrust into the spotlight quite regularly. If I Stay ends up being a decidedly mixed bag of offerings, a pedestrian YA adaptation that has limited appeal outside of fans of the source novel.

Rating: * * (out of four stars)

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