tue 16/07/2024

If I Stay | reviews, news & interviews

If I Stay

If I Stay

Film about a lovesick teenage musical prodigy has a decidedly tin ear

A matter of life and death: Jamie Blackley and Chloë Grace Moretz in 'If I Stay'

Beethoven went deaf at 26, we're helpfully informed near the start of If I Stay in a bit of information that pales next to the tin ear on display in this late-summer romantic tragedy, which aims to position Chloë Grace Moretz as the next Shailene Woodley. (The actresses are all of five years apart, which constitutes a veritable lifetime in Hollywood).

Even more than The Fault in Our Stars, the popular book-turned-film that places tragedy directly in the path of teenage love, this latest young adult novel to become a doomladen tearjerker displays a pretty strange set of priorities. I doubt I'm the only one who would care much whether or not I had got into a top music conservatoire, if confronted with the news that the rest of my family had been wiped out.

Still, documentary filmmaker R J Cutler's narrative feature debut is nothing if not determined in the emphasis it puts on the prodigal music-making gifts of Mia Hall (Moretz), an Oregonian who wants to head east to pursue her study of the cello at New York's Juilliard School, the prestigious performing arts academy for which this entire movie functions as an extended promo.

Shauna Cross's cliché-packed screenplay, adapted from Gayle Forman's best-seller of the same name, throws various obstacles in Mia's direction. For starters, her hipster parents (winningly played by Joshua Leonard and the wonderful Mireille Enos, the latter giving off the keen-eyed spark of a young Kathleen Turner) don't speak their daughter's classical music language: Dad played drums in a local punk band called the Nasty Bruises (!) whereas Mia is the sort who keeps pictures of Yo-Yo Ma in her school locker. (Hey, it beats Justin Bieber.) 

Chloe Grace MoretzAnd though boyfriend Adam (played with a flawless American accent by British actor Jamie Blackley, a budding charmer if ever there was one) supports Mia's aspirations - it was while glimpsing her in full musical flow in a practice room that he was first smitten - he's not overly keen at the idea of losing the love of his life to the East Coast. None of these factors, though, matters a whit compared to a road accident one snowy day that changes the fortunes of everyone involved and finds our doe-eyed heroine from that point forward hovering fretfully between life and death in a peculiarly articulated limbo that goes so far as to suggest that those who experience a sudden catastrophe can choose whether to live or die. Not the last time I checked. 

The remainder of the film couples swoony expressions of adoration (sample line: "Nothing else mattered - till now, till you") with the clunkily handled byplay between our ambulatory heroine-in-limbo (Mia post-accident is pictured below) and the comatose, bedridden Mia, the second of whom prompts a treacly bedside scene for the great Stacy Keach, who plays her grandfather. There are no rewards for guessing the outcome, even if getting to that point becomes increasingly tough to take. It seems borderline cruel to parcel out in so piecemeal a fashion the fates of the rest of Mia's family (Mum in particular gets notably short shift), even as the screenplay resolutely refuses to confront the more grievous reality that might lie in wait for Mia, assuming she lives to see another day. At which point, further education may not count for much, at least in the immediate aftermath of having suffered so momentous a loss.

Chloe Grace Moretz post-accidentOr perhaps it's simply in the nature of such books and films to pretend to confront reality head-on only to manipulate that reality to suit a predetermined, often suspect end. Moretz, playing a good girl for a change, has a putty-cheeked appeal without being able to transcend the puppeteering impulses of the plot. After a while one wants all the characters to speak less, so one can listen to a soundtrack that finds room for Kodály and Saint-Saëns and gives momentary pride of place to American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, who, as the vagaries of timing would have it, was playing at the Proms last night. Was her audience packed with tweens? After this film comes out, perhaps it will be.

Overleaf: watch the trailer for If I Stay


The film inhabits a peculiarly articulated limbo that goes so far as to suggest that those who experience a sudden catastrophe can choose whether to live or die


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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