Film review: Love story gets muddled in If I Stay

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Tension builds in If I Stay, as Mia, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, determines her own fate through flashbacks on family and romance. Photo credit: Warner Brothers Tension builds in If I Stay, as Mia, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, determines her own fate through flashbacks on family and romance. Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Saying that If I Stay, adapted from Gayle Forman’s blockbuster young adult novel, is bad because it’s overwrought and pretentious is to dismiss a crucial stage of growing up when you yourself are overwrought and pretentious by no real fault of your own. The entire young adult experience is completely unfair. You’re long on feelings but short on life experience. Your entire status in life is defined entirely by trends and peer pressure, so advertisers target you the most viciously. And worse yet, all you get from adults are mixed messages about enjoying your youth versus not screwing up your future.

So it makes sense that of all literary genres, young adult fiction would be the most self-limiting in order to be understood by its target demographic. Whether the plot revolves around vampires or post-apocalyptic fights to the death, every conflict can be distilled down to which crush you choose, how you treat your siblings, wanting to be seen for who you think you really are, and where you go to college/who you marry/whether you kill the president or not.

If I Stay hits all of these notes, and isn’t without its qualities when it steps out from behind its central conceit. Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a shy cello prodigy, the black sheep in a family of punk rockers, who has an extended out-of-body experience as she lays in a coma following a devastating car accident. Not knowing whether to fight or let herself die, most of the story is told in flashbacks, most notably her romance with Adam, the cute older guy of unclear age with rebellious yet non-threatening hair who brings his guitar everywhere. He sees her for who she really is, even if they’re from opposite sides of the track. As time goes on, his middle-of-the-road indie punk band starts to take off while she plans to leave for New York to attend Julliard, resulting in the kind of fights everyone should have only once in their life.

Strangely, the paint-by-numbers teen romance storyline is more engaging than the supernatural limbo Mia can’t get out of, because the two are unevenly developed and don’t work in parallel. Mia’s family of grown-up rockers are more believable than parents in young adult stories thanks in large part to intelligent, sensitive performances by Mireille Enos (“The Killing”) and Joshua Leonard (yes, the guy from The Blair Witch Project). The romance between Mia and Adam (yes, his safely rocking last name is Wilde) accurately captures what teen love feels like at that age (and only that age). And, in a possibly revolutionary move for a movie of this type, teen sex is treated fairly and without judgment. The decision to have sex isn’t the heavy, important crossroads that you generally see in other teen movies, it’s a natural evolution of Mia and Adam’s feelings for each other. Bonus points for giving teens sex-positive role models.

Meanwhile, every time the film cuts back to Mia in the hospital, it loses all of the drama it built up. The mythology of out-of-body experiences is confusing, and focuses the story onto a single decision to live or die that is frustratingly difficult to empathize with. The beginnings of genuine adolescent emotions turn to platitudes.

If I Stay has the beginnings of a good, well-rounded teen drama that has its target demographic’s sensibilities in mind with a few social victories for the portrayal of teens along the way. Granted, the only way you’re likely to see it is if you are either a teen yourself or the parent of one, but if you are struggling to find ways to spend time with your confusing ball of hormones, there are worse choices than If I Stay.

~Kristofer Jenson

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979-7669

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
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