'If I Stay' Review: Silly, Shallow, Precious Melodrama
Admittedly, I'm a guy and I'm nearing a hundred -- so feel free to dismiss this review. Do keep in mind, though, that this horribly uncool hundred year-old evil white male conservative had a lot of nice things to say about "The Fault In Our Stars," which is very similar (in a girly way) to "If I Stay."
The similarities between "Fault" and "If I Stay" are many: Teenage death. Teenage romance. A compelling lead actress. The difference, however, is all the difference. As manipulative as "Fault" was, it worked. I was kind of a mess when the credits rolled -- which is not a pleasant experience when the lights come up and you're in a sea of 14 year-old girls.
"The Fault In Our Stars" manipulated me into feeling something. "If I Stay" only made me feel manipulated.
Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) lives in that part of Portland that could double for Vancouver. She's gorgeous and brilliant but still something of an outcast and without a boyfriend. Remember how in high school all the gorgeous brilliant girls were outcasts who didn’t have boyfriends?
Yeah, it's like that.
Mia doesn't fit in due to her infatuation with Yo Yo Ma, her obsession with playing the cello and her pretentious habit of referring to Beethoven by his first name, Ludwig.
Even though her family is achingly precious, Mia is still a bit of an outcast at home. Her parents are former punk rockers who were once part of the Seattle music scene. Now, like the parents in "Family Ties," they're a little befuddled at how quickly they went from Steve McQueen to Chris Hayes.
Mia is buttoned down, conservative, and thinking about Julliard … until she meets Adam (Jamie Blackley).
Adam, like Mia's parents once were, is cool and into the local music scene. His band is on the rise, the girls all want him. Naturally, though, he sees something in the luminous Mia no one else does, and after he says something to her every girl wants to hear and she says something to him every girl hopes she will say after hearing what they want to hear, true love blossoms.
Can true love survive his West Coast rock -n- roll aspirations and her East Coast dream of Julliard?
I just didn’t care.
There's movie dialogue and then there's movie dialogue. If you have ever had to suffer through a recording of an actual conversation, you know that no one talks like anyone does in the movies. The problem is that unlike smart movie dialogue, "If I Stay" doesn’t represent how people really talk, it represents how people want to talk -- especially 16 year-old girls who lay in bed at night, rerun the day in their head, and wish they'd said this and that.
It's a given that Mia does Dear Diary voice-over throughout, and you allow some poetic license there, even for the tiredest of tropes like, "Life is what happens when you’re making other plans." What isn't believable is Adam telling Mia, "You can't hide in the rehearsal room forever; I've already seen you," the first time they speak.
Mia's parents are just as bad. As she's proven through four seasons of "The Killing," Mireille Enos is one terrific actress. As Mia's mother, though, the script and direction strip her of every nuance and turn her into cloying, grinning symbol working way too hard to be liked.
The only actor who comes with a draw is Stacy Keach, who plays Gramps. He has two scenes that are by far the best in the movie.
The paragraphs above are just the long way of telling you that none of the relationships are even close to believable. If the relationships do work, that can paper over a lot of flaws. If the relationships don't work, nothing else really matters.
Worst of all is the story's central conceit. Most of the narrative is told in flashback. About ten minutes in, Mia and her achingly precious family are in a horrible car accident. While Mia's in a coma, she has an out-of-body experience. Will she choose Adam and Julliard or the light at the end of the hospital corridor.
I just didn't care.
Never for a moment do you believe Mia will choose the light. To say that the film's central question is lacking in dramatic tension would be kind. The movie even fails to turn this choice into something that matters. Instead it's hollow melodrama; a thoughtless afterthought turned into a Movie Concept turned into a framing device. Because this fails so spectacularly, the narrative is brutally episodic.
"If I Stay" has some wonderful qualities. It's nice to see a family that's loving and not dysfunctional. There's a nice message about how your children come first and nothing wrong with idealizing a boyfriend like Adam. He's honest, loyal, drug-free, thoughtful, responsible, has a job; some ambition, and overcame a tough childhood… In short, he's something for young men to aspire to.
Our culture could use more examples like Adam.
They just need to be put in better movies.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC