Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) has the perfect life.
She’s intelligent, pretty, a cello prodigy with aspirations of attending the Juilliard School has a hot boyfriend she loves — and thanks to a script by Shauna Cross, based on Gayle Forman’s YA novel — always says the right things at the right time.
Who wouldn’t want to be her?
Directed by R.J. Cutler. Screenplay by Shauna Cross, based on the Gayle Forman novel. A Warner Brothers/New Line Cinema/MGM release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material. Running time: 103 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★½
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Stacy Keach.
And yet Mia has a difficult choice to make about returning to her life after a family car trip on a snowy highway turns tragic, leaving her an orphan, comatose, and clinging to life. The spirit of Mia then wanders the hospital halls and rooms in shock and confusion, watching friends and family grieve, listening to a kindly nurse whisper in her ear to be strong and fight, and contemplating her future through flashbacks to her past.
Directed by R.J. Cutler, a documentarian (The September Issue, The World According to Dick Cheney) and TV producer (Nashville), If I Stay isn’t far removed from the filmmaker’s past. The non-linear jumps between Mia’s past and present are similarly structured like most documentaries, revealing clumps of important information in distinct segments, all of which are anchored to present-moment contemplation of the subject.
Cutler, strangely, never settles on Mia’s abilities to walk through doors and people, as she typically follows people into hospital rooms and avoids running into anyone in the halls, while in some scenes we find her already in a room with no one around.
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Moretz resists the obvious maudlin turn in Mia’s life interrupted with a performance that doesn’t court audience tears as a teenager facing the two great challenges of adulthood: love and death. At 17, the actress has consistently shown a sophistication and range (the foul-mouth and scene-stealing superhero Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, the young and curious French love of an orphan in Hugo, the telekinetic and dangerous teen in last year’s Carrie) that suggest she’s destined for better things to come.
If I Stay is not it.
Not that this teen drama is a bad film. It’s just difficult to connect with such artificial characters.
Mia’s boyfriend, Adam, played by Jamie Blackley, is tall, dark, and handsome, and he’s the lead singer, guitarist, and writer for an up-and-coming Portland band that all the kids love and everyone is certain is super close to making it in the music business. Surely, everyone can relate to this.
Adam spies Mia playing cello between classes at their high school, is instantly smitten, and sets about wooing her. Mia’s too-cool-to-be-real punk rock parents Kat (Mireille Enos) and Denny (Joshua Leonard) take a shine to Adam, and encourage their relationship.
Of course, the inevitable problems turn up to cause their love to wane: What happens if she is accepted into Juilliard? And as Adam’s band gets more popular and goes on the road, keeping the couple apart, Mia wonders if he’s still into her.
Cutler tries to keep the suspense going as long as he can regarding Mia’s big decision — as the Clash would say, Should I Stay or Should I Go? — but the more he jumps back to her present-day ghost, the more the story unravels.
So Mia loses her parents, but her troubled relationship with her first boyfriend is the reason she will return? Cutler suggests that it’s Mia’s obsession with the cello and classical music and her big career-making opportunity that play important parts in her choice, but all of those factors merely orbit Adam, who is clearly the star in her solar system. And he’s desperate to get her back, even when an angry nurse and hospital security conspire to keep him out of her hospital room because he’s not family.
Yes, the film goes there with some weird Nurse Ratched nonsense.
At least Moretz and Blackley make a handsome couple, playing the kind of characters you want to be together, even if you don’t believe for a moment that they’re real.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.