If I Stay may be the second tissues-required adaptation of a young adult novel to hit theaters this summer, but it’s not destined to feel like a repeat. The Chloë Grace Moretz vehicle arrives in theaters on Aug. 22 and follows her character, Mia, through an out-of-body experience following a car accident that puts her in coma. Mia looks back on the days of her life and toward an uncertain future, as she weighs the question of whether or not to wake up to a reality much altered from the one she knew.
Though much of Mia’s trip down memory lane is dedicated to showcasing her relationship with rocker-on-the-rise, Adam (Jamie Blackley), it also examines her life with her best friend, younger brother and parents –– a one-time Riot Grrrl (Mirelle Enos in her most enjoyable role to date) and former punk rock drummer (Joshua Leonard) who swapped their scene for family, but lost none of their taste or sensibilities in the process. Though Mia, a top notch cellist, also has a love for music, she is drawn to the organization and precision of classical music rather than the chaos and rebellion of rock.
Ultimately, If I Stay is well done, Moretz and the rest of the cast –– particularly Aisha Hinds as an exceptionally devoted nurse –– carry the emotional weight well, the film is fleet yet deep enough to emote and the truckload of smart musical references will keep trivia buffs pleased, even if they don’t go in for some of the rose-tinted teen romance (which is a stretch at turns).
Unfortunately, the film suffers from its own marketing efforts. The assorted trailers and TV spots revealed so many pivotal moments that the film itself is robbed of its emotional punch and resonance in more than one instance. As an audience we are left waiting for reveals we know are coming, instead of following the action to see where we’re going. Perhaps the thought was that the promotional footage should tease the pivotal moments fans of the book are anxiously awaiting, but unless you’ve broken sales records a la Harry Potter or enjoyed decade after decade of fandom as The Lord of the Rings has that’s not a wise move, as it spoils the experience for the audience those materials are supposed to be wooing.
In any event, this well-acted, musically-smart drama is deserving of a watch, but it could have been a much more enjoyable one if its contents were better guarded.