If I Stay
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 7th September 2014
This young adult novel by Gayle Forman has been made into a distinctly young adult film which might touch the older viewer at times but is largely going to be the cinema-going remit of those who like their pathos double-downed.
And boy, does it use up all the tissues. As if the emotional wringer of falling in love wasn’t enough for a teen story, If I Stay weaves into it the devastation of a car crash which leaves a family’s lives in the balance.
Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a brilliant young cellist with an eye on the top music school in the country whose life is torn apart one fateful, snow-ridden day. As the narrative follows the fallout from the accident, Chloe’s voiceover darts back to the past to recount the previous two years, during which time she meets rocker Adam (Jamie Blackley). Negotiating the travails of being a classical musician and not fitting in with his crowd, Mia and Adam’s relationship is pretty typical of teen intensity and insecurity, even if Mia’s perpetual soft-focus beauty (all angora sweaters and nonchalantly curled hair) is more evocative of fairytale.
It’s a curious choice of project for director R. J. Cutler, who documented a year in the life of Vogue magazine in the terrific The September Issue, and has for some reason been tasked with entirely different subject matter here. But as a YA movie it works well enough. Sensibly, the double-stranded plot keeps you engaged throughout, aided by the “live or die” question mark which dangles above the characters. The flashbacks to happier times provide a showcase for serious actors like The Killing‘s Mireille Enos to quite literally let their hair down as the alt-rock mom who plays hooky from work and implores her straight-laced daughter to lighten up.
However, with such an overdose of tragedy, the plot becomes almost overwhelming and it is impossible to really connect with what’s going on for the characters – no sooner do your eyes well up about one sadness, another is thrown on to the fire. The youth of today seem to have a remarkable capacity for absorbing this degree of anguish, and the story was written for them, but older viewers may not feel so carried away.