'If I Stay' is without shame a picture aimed straight at the tear ducts, presumably in the belief that a good crying spell is both therapeutic and cathartic for the spirit. And the picture mostly works hard to earn its tears honestly: The characters are attractive and appealing and likable, and the actors playing the characters also are attractive and appealing and likable. This is the rare picture which features no bad guys. Everybody's a good guy. Based on Gayle Forman's 2009 young adult novel of the same name, 'If I Stay' chronicles the emotional experience of a buttoned-up 17-year-old cello prodigy Mia Hall, played here by actress Chloe Grace Moretz, and her worlds-colliding romance with an up-and-coming young rock-and-roll guitarist named Adam. That both Mia and Adam are on the cusp of professional breakthroughs in their musical pursuits accounts for most the of the ups and downs in their relationship. Unfortunately, their romance is in the middle of one of its downs when Mia and her family are involved in a catastrophic auto accident, casting Mia into an out-of-body experience in which she can observe the people she loves, but not communicate with them or interfere with their actions. 'If I Stay' is a picture that gives you the kind of satisfaction you get from being on time for an appointment, following your doctor's orders, eating the right cereal, taking your medicine as prescribed, or getting a flu shot: You might rather be watching 'Guardians of the Galaxy,' a 'Fast and Furious' movie or 'The Expendibles,' but you just know that a movie with this much cello music in it has got to be good for you. And it is fairly good. Young Mia has wonderful support from her parents, a set of amiable former rockers played appealingly by Mirielle Enos and Joshua Leonard. Leonard especially, late of 'The Blair Witch Project' hysteria of 1999, has matured into a solid character actor and possesses a sort of good-natured, loopy appeal which in 'If I Stay' contrasts nicely with the buttoned-up performance of Moretz as his daughter. In the film, it's shown in flashbacks that Mia's folks grew up and embraced responsibility when it became apparent to them that the late nights and party lights did not blend well with parenthood an epiphany which makes even more perplexing their almost pushing young Mia out the door to be with her rocker boyfriend. As Mia's rock guitarist boyfriend, Jamie Blackley is somehow manages to be sullen without actually pouting, and is simultaneously withdrawn and inarticulate about romance yet strong-willed and verbose about music. You can see why Mia's attracted to Adam, but if you're like me you might be more than a little conflicted about their falling into bed quite so quickly, especially if, like me, you view the picture with your girlfriend's adolescent daughter present. Unfortunately, at some point—I'm not exactly not sure when, but I think it's about an hour into the picture—the narrative becomes sticky and manipulative, and the picture begins to rely on broad characterizations, familiar stereotypes, and the familiarity of plot devices from movies past, to sort of swindle the tears from the audience. And that's too bad, because by that point I'd already decided I enjoyed the picture, and was unprepared to modify my opinion. That the scene which I believe began the manipulation featured the showcase moment for veteran actor Stacy Keach, as the crusty but lovable old Grandpa, made the cheat seem even more unexpected and surprising. Keach, much like Robert Loggia, seems like such an honest, sturdy, and dependable actor. But having said that, about 80% of the success of 'If I Stay' belongs to young Chloe Grace Moretz in the central role as Mia. Moretz is earnest enough in her craft to make us care about young Mia even through her most puzzling and selfish interludes. Moretz followed 'If I Stay' with a supporting role the high-profile action film 'The Equalizer,' with Denzel Washington. And combined with 'If I Stay' and Moretz' affecting characterization in the title role of the most recent remake of 'Carrie'—not to mention Hammer's under-appreciated 'Let Me In' and the 'Kick-Ass' pictures—it's plain that this is one young actress who's going places. Fast. I liked 'If I Stay.' But I think I already told you that.
If I Stay
Drama / Fantasy / Music / Romance
If I Stay
Drama / Fantasy / Music / Romance
Life changes in an instant for young Mia Hall after a car accident puts her in a coma. During an out-of-body experience, she must decide whether to wake up and live a life far different than she had imagined. The choice is hers if she can go on.
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April 30, 2019