In “If I Stay,” the car crash that killed her parents has left high school senior Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) comatose and clinging to life.
A nurse whispers that the medical team has done all it can, and it’s up to Mia to decide whether she lives or dies.
During an out-of-body experience, she looks back on her life while roaming the hospital’s halls. “How,” she says, “am I supposed to find the strength to stay?”
Umm, because living is awesome?
It’s literally the best way you can spend your day.
Mia watches as her grandfather (Stacy Keach), who’s just lost his son, tearfully pleads for her to pull through. She sees distraught friends and family members stream by her bedside. She listens intently as Adam (Jamie Blackley), her hunky, burgeoning rock-star boyfriend, serenades her with the song she inspired.
Yet she’s clearly torn over the no-brainer of whether to live or die. It’s all so very frustrating, you’ll likely find yourself wanting to shake her.
They could have made almost the exact same movie with Mia sitting in a diner, struggling to decide between having the turkey or the corned beef, and it would have felt like more of a quandary.
Granted, I’m not exactly the target demo for “If I Stay,” which was based on Gayle Forman’s best-selling young adult novel. And a couple of hours after learning of Robin Williams’ suicide probably was not the ideal time to have seen this. But I’ve always been a pretty big fan of life.
Your reaction to “If I Stay” may vary. I could practically hear eyes rolling in certain parts of the theater, yet several moviegoers sniffled, and one tried so hard to gulp back sobs, she ended up snorting.
Mia’s fateful day begins with news that a snowstorm has canceled school. That frees up her and her little brother, Teddy (Jakob Davies), as well as her dad (Joshua Leonard), who’s a teacher. Once her mom (Mireille Enos) calls in sick to work, they set off on a day-trip, even though Mia would rather stay home and wait for her acceptance/rejection letter from Juilliard.
One icy spot on the road later, and Mia’s life is changed forever.
The parts of “If I Stay” that don’t involve Mia staring at herself on a gurney or gawking into the occasional bright light at the end of a hallway — i.e., the parts of “If I Stay” that work — are the flashbacks.
We see Mia discover the cello in second grade, and we see the dismay in the eyes of her rocker parents, roles that feel lived in thanks to Enos and Leonard. Dad was once the drummer for Nasty Bruises, a punk band that almost broke out, and Mom had been a nose-ringed riot grrrl. Even little Teddy loves Iggy Pop, so much so their dad cautions him against listening to anything Iggy made after 1978.
Mia, though, worships at the altar of Beethoven and Yo-Yo Ma and jokes about having been switched at birth.
One day at school, she gets so caught up in playing her cello, she doesn’t even notice Adam, seemingly plucked from the sensitive rocker aisle at Heartthrobs R Us, watching her play. “You can’t hide in that rehearsal room forever,” he practically coos. “It’s too late. I see you.”
We’re there for their first date and Mia’s wide-eyed amazement when he holds her hand. We see her hide her stuffed Schroeder just before Adam climbs through her bedroom window. And we witness her favorite day: a spontaneous Labor Day jam session with family and friends around a bonfire. These little moments, orchestrated by director R.J. Cutler (ABC’s “Nashville”), are all beautiful in varying ways.
Moretz is going to have a long, likely distinguished career. And she does a fine job of bringing Mia to life the way she was written. Unfortunately, the way Mia was written — either by Forman, screenwriter Shauna Cross (“Whip It”) or both — is as the most serious girl in the history of serious girls.
Mia and Adam have an interesting chemistry. But too often … you may … feel drowsy … during the … (yawn) … pauses … when … they … speak.
“If I Stay” never explains whether Mia’s is a special case or if everyone who hovers between life and death has that decision to make. And if it’s the latter, does that mean your gramps and meemaw simply didn’t love you enough to stick around? Are all those Ebola victims just quitters? And what about anyone who lingers in a coma for weeks or even years? Are they indecisive or are they milking it?
I get it. Losing your parents at any age must be devastating.
There are zero advantages to being a teenage orphan, unless your goal is to become a superhero.
But the solution is so obvious, it was plastered all over the T-shirts in that video for Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go”:
Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4567.