Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato, Stacy Keach, Gabrielle Rose, Jakob Davies, Ali Milner, Aisha Hinds
Written by: Shauna Cross, based on a novel by Gayle Forman
Directed by: R.J. Cutler
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Running Time: 106
Date: 08/22/2014
IMDB

If I Stay (2014)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Life Choices

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The events in If I Stay are supposed to be very moving, and perhaps they were moving when they were in Gayle Forman's novel. But now, with this movie, I can't help but feel the repercussions of a business decision made by adult male producers: this product, aimed at the purses of teen girls, was going to be a wise investment. After that decision, why put much effort into it?

The movie focuses on one of those teen girls you only see in movies; Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) is flawlessly beautiful, but she's not the most popular girl in school. She's shy and tries to behave, and her playing cello -- and her love for Beethoven over rock 'n' roll -- makes her feel like an outcast. Nevertheless she meets a cute rocker boy, Adam (Jamie Blackley), and begins a passionate relationship with him. He's obviously The One.

Unlike in other movies, her parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) are open-minded, being former rockers themselves. But that's not where the conflict comes in. The conflict comes in when the family gets into a car crash on a snowy mountain road. Mia wakes up in a kind of out-of-body spirit form and helplessly watches her actual body is loaded into an ambulance and taken to a hospital.

She must try to figure out which of her family members is alive or dead, and in-between these heart-rending moments, the movie flashes back to Mia's romance with Adam, which hits some bumpy spots. (It's hard not to be thinking of the life-or-death situation in the hospital during these goopy romantic scenes.) Basically it comes down to the fact that Mia may get a chance to study cello at Julliard while Adam gets a big record deal in Portland. What terrible problems to have!

Eventually, after all the heartstring tugging of her family members and visiting friends, it comes down Mia deciding if she's going to stay here on earth, in her body, or go to the next level of existence, whatever it may be. (The movie doesn't explain anything, but it does show a warm, glowing light from time to time.) Stacey Keach has the movie's best scene as Mia's grandpa, who visits her and speaks to her unconscious form about this decision.

The spirit, afterlife, life/death, out-of-body concepts are great to think about and imagine, but in visualizing it, the movie just seems sadly misguided. It would almost be laughable, but it feels inappropriate to laugh. Likewise, the romance stuff never comes across as strongly as it should, taking place in flashback, and relying on a vague, unformed chemistry between two young actors.

The movie's strong point, and where it probably surpasses the novel, is the music, from Mia's cello playing to all the references to cool rock 'n' roll (the real stuff, like Sonic Youth, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, The Clash, Smashing Pumpkins, etc.). But, to be honest, I think I'd rather stay home and listen to records than submit myself to the heartbreak and tragedy of If I Stay again.

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