"If I Stay" is a recent film adaptation of a novel of the same name by Gayle Forman. Film adaptations often run the risk of losing out on some critical pieces that a novel can take the time to sort out. Without any insight into the novel, it’s hard to tell if this film actually did lose out on anything. Regardless, the film still felt purposeful and moving.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Mia Hall, a 17-year-old high school student whose life is limbo after getting into a car accident with her family. While in a coma, Hall has an out-of-body experience and reminisces on her past, her family, friends and loved ones, all while having to make the ultimate decision of whether or not to stay in this world and continue living, or move on and succumb to her injuries. That decision in and of itself holds a lot of meaning, but combined with what’s at stake in the living world causes the gravity of it to expand tenfold.
It’s hard to take a look at the plot of the film and critique it, being as though it was based upon a novel; but what can be critiqued is the depiction of that plot. There are two major aspects of this film that contributed to the plot in a positive way, and in a way that a novel cannot: the acting and the music. Characters in a novel become whoever an author wants them to become. They are portrayed based upon who the writer wants them to be. In a film, however, an actor ultimately brings these characters to life. Moretz brought Mia to life and gave her purpose. She created a sense of being and incited some care into what was to become of her.
The music, similarly, was able to draw some emotion in a way that a novel wouldn’t have been able to. Mia is a cellist, and her passion for Classical music causes her to live her life based upon what the music means to her. Film has a lot of creative access and can often use music as a great benefit to incite some sort of emotion. "If I Stay" was not short on that, which really helped elevate the film to the tearjerker it was intending to be.
There are likely going to be teary eyes during this film, because what it also does it incorporate flashbacks and voiceovers to tell the story and develop its characters. It starts off rocky because the characters don’t initially seem too believable. Mia’s mother (Mireille Enos) and father (Joshua Leonard) didn’t seem too genuine early on, as their old-school rocker personas came across far too cliché. However, when the flashbacks began, Mia’s time with her parents and their friends seemed much more organic. Her grandfather (Stacy Keach) was the star of the family, however, as he managed to help guide Mia on her emotional journey through the memories of her love for the cello and music.
Finally, the main aspect of Mia’s memories—and the ones that are intertwined throughout the film—revolve around her boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley). This aspect was perhaps the biggest weakness in the film, as it teetered slightly on the verge of generic young adult romantic drama. The film didn’t need this, but it perhaps couldn’t have been done without it, as—again—this was based upon a novel. It’s hard not to look at this being as through it was the main driving force in the film, but it is much more beneficial to see the other aspects of what made this film watchable.
Overall, "If I Stay" did a decent job of being the emotional film it was intended to be—just not for the reasons it was perhaps hoping for. The clichéd romance between the two main characters wasn’t all that interesting or new, but the saving 'grace' here was Moretz. She did an amazing job captivating the audience and bringing Mia to life—or in the film’s case, deciding whether or not to bring her to life. The music was an important aspect as well, and one that paired well with Mia’s character and circumstance. At times the film did seem uninhabited, as if the everyday routine around the main characters wasn’t sincere, which is slightly in line with the somewhat disingenuous depiction of Mia’s parents and a couple of the other supporting characters. Regardless, there was still a journey, there was good character development, and the story was depicted well, which are all wins.
Final grade? B