The initial trailers for “If I Stay” seemed to elicit one of two reactions. The first reaction is something like this, “Oh my God, she loves him so much that her ghost won’t let her body die” then Noah is forced to build another Ark due to the flood of tears. The second reaction involves gagging, eye rolling, and overall general malaise.
The actual movie “If I Stay” meets those two reactions somewhere in the middle.
Chloe Grace Moretz is Mia Hall, a junior high school student with 1980s punk rock parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) who can’t believe that their spawn didn’t color her hair blue, throw on a leather skirt, and head off to the closest rock show in Portland, OR. Instead, Mia discovered the cello at a young age and her entire worldview revolves around it.
Mia’s slightly mundane and boring high school existence ends when Adam (Jamie Blackley) notices her sitting in the music room alone, just rocking out on her cello. Adam is hot stuff in school as he’s a senior who already is in a hit band that is gaining notice on a national level. He asks Mia out and young love happens, as it is wont to do.
Then, tragedy strikes. Mia and her family (including her six year old brother, Teddy) are in a horrendous car crash on an icy road. From that point on, “If I Stay” is told in the present time as Mia’s ghost or spirit watches her own body be taken, comatose, to a hospital. As she runs around, highly confused, her thoughts flash back and we see the events that occurred in her relationship with Adam, her family, and her desire to try out and apply to Julliard’s vaunted music school.
None of this is a spoiler, as the marketing for “If I Stay” had pushed the plot out there pretty heavy. The majority of the movie is connecting the dots and filling in the backstory, some of it good, some of it bad, and some of it full out emotionally manipulative.
It also doesn’t help that all the scenes featuring live performances of Adam’s band are visual and audio versions of nails down a chalkboard. This band is not good and when Adam is up on stage in all his sweaty, greasy haired glory, there is nothing that makes him dreamy. He just looks bored and gross and in desperate need of a shower.
Chloe Grace Moretz really gives it her all, but the script by Shauna Cross repeatedly lets her down. There are some cringe worthy moments when Moretz just has to make goo-goo eyes at Blackley’s Adam and say something like, “Oh Adam, (fill in the blank) is amazing”.
Perhaps seeing Moretz be so dark and fantastic in things like “Let Me In” or “Kick Ass” makes it impossible to see her play such a eyelid-fluttering kid. It’s not that she’s poorly cast as much as there is so much more she could be doing than simply being so…well…wimpy.
There’s nothing to say about Blackley. He’s essentially a warm body, just there to emote and say typical dumb teenage guy things.
The moments when “If I Stay” really work are with Mia and her family. Little used Joshua Leonard (maybe last seen by many as one of the guys in “The Blair Witch Project”) is exceptionally heartwarming as a caring father that gave up on his dreams to better care for his daughter. Mirielle Enos seems to be showing up in roles that only require her to douse her face in a metric ton of makeup, but she plays the tough, understanding mom very well in this case.
However, the greatest and most touching moments come from Stacy Keach. Keach is Mia’s grandfather and he has a handful of scenes that are gut punches, especially when propped up against the emptiness of the rest of the movie. He admits faults as a parent, opens up to Mia in ways that her parents haven’t, and just may jerk a few tears out of the toughest of audiences.
“If I Stay” will probably do big box office business with the high school crowd. This is teen angst drama of the highest order, with next to nothing for anyone over the age of 20 to grasp. But, if anything, at least it’s not “Twilight”.
Let’s just stay tuned and wait for Chloe Grace Moretz’s next movie because there is no doubt that she’s a star, but “If I Stay” is not going to make her future greatest hits record.