Whether you should stay or you should go see the teen drama ‘If I Stay’ depends on how you feel about the young adult fiction genre. The film never sugarcoats the macabre plot. It is an unflinching romantic drama that will tug at your heartstrings. Adapted from the best-selling novel by Gayle Forman, ‘If I Stay’ is sure to appeal to audiences that enjoyed ‘The Fault in Our Stars.’ These are stories of young people finding true love in the shadow of adversity. And while the stakes are melodramatically high, these endearing films remind teens and older generations the painful challenges of growing up and finding their own way in the world.
The film’s authenticity is due to the choice of filmmaker and a talented young cast. Many directors get their start in documentaries and R.J. Cutler is no exception. His impressive resume includes “The War Room” (1993), “The September Issue” (2009) and “The World According to Dick Cheney.” After reading Gayle Forman’s novel, he was moved by the story’s main theme of dealing with the darkest fairy tales in losing our parents. He feels that after his father passed away, getting the opportunity to adapt this film was a great gift. Being a documentarian helped him bring a genuine touch to the story since he possesses a very sensitive barometer to truthful behavior. He admires a quote David Mamet once said, “Always tell the truth – it’s the easiest to remember.”
For a story of this emotional magnitude to work, it helps to have a talented cast. Thankfully the young actors keep the story engaging. At only 17 years of age, Chloe Grace Moretz has already established herself as a gifted actress in such films as ‘Kick-Ass,’ ‘Let Me In’ and ‘Hugo.’ Her solid performance in ‘If I Stay’ proves that she has a versatile acting range and will easily transition to adult dramatic roles one day. She is the emotional anchor of this film. She handles the lead role with a nice balance of sweetness and sensitivity. Moretz plays Mia, a gifted Cellist that has the chance to go to the best music school in the country – Julliard. There is only one thing standing in her way and that is a new boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley). He is a talented rock musician in a garage band that finally gets noticed by record labels. As their relationship blossoms, the decision of leaving friends and family behind in Portland for the chance to make it in New York is a painful dilemma for the young lovers.
Beautifully shot in Portland, Oregon, the Northwestern landscapes enhance the story. It’s not giving away anything by mentioning the horrific car accident that is in all of the movie previews. The consequences of the accident impact Mia and her family. We see Mia watching the aftermath of the car accident in a dreamlike out-of-body experience. It’s beautifully done. She watches her lifeless body transported to the hospital in an ambulance. She hitches a ride and finds herself wondering the hallways of the hospital trying to make sense of the freak accident. Before going under the knife in surgery, a nurse whispers to her to find every bit of energy to prepare for the fight of her life. She soon realizes whether she wants to live or die is up to her. “Sometimes you make choices in life, and sometimes choices make you.”
This is where the story gets interesting. Mia’s soul has the freedom to walk around the hospital and see all of the people in the waiting room that care about her. While she is in a coma, she is able to have vivid flashbacks of her family and friends. It gives the drama a rich backstory. When we get to know Mia and her family, we realize how much she has to live for. The fact that she is into classical music gives the film an elegant feel. Here’s a girl that has fallen in love with a rocker that is completely opposite to her passion for classical music. Yet Cutler handles their relationship with maturity and sweetness. They both have a love for music no matter the genre. It is still music and it is a strong bond that Mia and Adam share and respect between each other. Mia’s parents are former rockers themselves. Mia’s father Denny (Joshua Leonard) was in a moderately successful garage band in the Portland music scene and there are photos of Mia’s mom Kat (Mireille) toting her to his concerts. Her relationship with her father is a touching and important one. She falsely thinks her parents are disappointed in her classical music pursuits. She soon realizes from her grandpa (Stacy Keach) how proud the whole family is of her musical talents. Mia also has a girlfriend named Kim (Liana Liberato) who plays her bestfriend. Liberato breaks all of the superficial stereotypes of how a teen pal should act. She’s one to watch. Blackley is equally good as Mia’s young love. He holds his own during the emotionally poignant scenes.
‘If I Stay’ is a moving teen romance. It touches on heavy themes about how we all have to say goodbye to the people we love to sometimes move on with our journey through life. This is a beautifully made film that should not be missed. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/m9hZ40TJ0zs.