It’s Ghost, but with no Swayze. Points already deducted.
Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz), her mother (Mireille Enos), her father (Joshua Leonard), and her little bro (Jakob Davies) all go out for a trip during a snow day. What starts off as promising day, suddenly turns to tragedy when they are all involved in a very serious car accident, leaving all four of them in critical condition. However, Mia ends up having an out-of-body experience where she’s not able to actually get into any contact with those around her, but is still able to see and hear every little thing. She doesn’t know whether she’s going to die or not, but she puts up no matter what and decides that it’s best to reflect on what got her here in the first place, and those who matter enough that she’d want to be alive for them. One person in particular is her indie-rockin’ ex-boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) who she’s had a rough history with, but realizes that she loves and wants to spend more time with. All she has to do is fight, or something like that.
Every once and awhile, there comes a movie that totally blinds me by surprise. Not because it’s amazing or downright Earth-shattering that it makes me re-think my love for movies, as well as my whole life leading up to seeing it – nope, it’s because a movie that I didn’t expect to like in the least bit, let alone go into already hating, does something and that’s “has an effect on me”. Once again, I’m not saying that If I Stay is the one movie this year, so far, that’s made me think about those who are in my life, or has forced me to listen to the National for a whole week – I’m saying that it’s a movie I dreaded going into and about ten minutes realized that, “Oh shit, this is gonna be good.”
With the incredible amount of movies I see (all good, bad, new and old), this so rarely often happens. But when your movie is another, run-of-the-mill young adult adaptation, especially when that’s coming a month or two after the Fault In Our Stars, then me actually liking, let alone, enjoying something along the same lines is downright unbelievable. In fact, if you had come up to me about a month or two ago, slapped me on the back and told me that, believe it or not, “I’d actually like this new Chloë Grace Moretz-starring young adult tale in which she plays a dying girl vowing for her love”, then I would have not only called you crazy and beat you up, but I would have probably acted like I never met you in my whole life.
But, here we are: A movie seen, a few friendships broken and more than a few assault charges added to personal record, and I actually liked If I Stay.
And what surprises me more now than ever before, isn’t that I actually liked it, but I seem to be the only one who actually does give a hoot about its existence. Sure, the audience who this is clearly made for in mind will absolutely run to the hills and then some just to see this, but for the critics and “professionals” of the movie world out there, I’m surprised by the lack of any love for this movie. That’s not me saying that every person, professional or not, should agree with whatever my opinion on a movie is, or isn’t, but it’s surprising to me on this occasion, that not only do I end up being the ultimate super fan for something I didn’t even care for seeing in the first place, but that I actually find myself wanting to tell others to check it out, even if they were in the same frame of mind I was going into it.
Typically, I would only go to one of these flicks if I had nothing else better to do, or if I was trying to impress with a girl with something other than my masculine body, but here I was, sitting in a room full of sappy teenage girls who were just looking for a cry, and the old dudes that probably were, too, but I won’t even bother going deep into that. But see, while they were all expecting a good cry, I was just expecting something that would have me laughing my ass off non-stop at all of the ultra-serious moments and, as a result, get an awful bunch of glares from those around me.
However, that didn’t happen. In fact, dare I say it, I actually joined the rest of the crowd in the tearing-up because, for what it’s worth, this is what happens when sap is done right. You can tell that throughout this whole movie, director R. J. Cutler is just pulling and peeling away at our souls in such an overly-manipulative, cloying way, but it somehow got me. Most of that has to do with the fact that when Cutler has to give us these small, bare moments of actual human connection and insight, he delivers. He doesn’t try to over-do the fact that these two teens in the middle of this love are ill-matched for each other in the first place – instead, he just lets it tell itself, with a few flashbacks to Mia herself running around, yelling at people, and being upset about everything that’s happened to her, those she loves and what is waiting for her if she ever wakes the hell up.
Actually, that was probably the worst aspect for me with this movie. Not only did it feel like a kid version of Ghost (hence the joke up above), but it’s rule are never made clear to us. Can Mia herself actually physically make herself come alive? Or, is she just supposed to stand around, yelling at those who clearly can’t hear/see her, and just wait to see how the whole medical procedure plays out? It was never made clear to us and although you could make an argument that the movie wasn’t trying to focus on this as much as they were with the characters and their relationships with one another, I would also argue right back and say then don’t even have the whole angle included in the first place. Just have her in some strange after-life sequence that lasts all of five minutes, have it all happen at the end, and get us to the point of what it’s trying to say.
It would have been a whole lot simpler, but since it was done in the book, I guess it makes sense to do it here. Although there is definitely a thing such as, “Sometimes what reads well on paper, doesn’t always play out so well on film”. Don’t know who said that or when, all I know is that it’s a saying and it’s one I live by for all these novel adaptations.
Anyway, back to the good stuff about this movie. What it does do so well is that it presents us with a believable, relatively likable relationship that makes you want both sides to be together and happy in the end. However, it doesn’t start off that way, because when we’re introduced to Mia, we get the idea that she’s a band weenie that enjoys Bach, Mozart and all that classical stuff that’s made for old people and rich, snobby teenagers, so when she and this Adam dude meet and he’s automatically attracted to her and making all sorts of moves on her, it’s a bit too sudden and not entirely understandable. He says that the reason he noticed her in the first place was because how she played the cello, was with exact precision and passion, something that he clearly wants in his life. Or something like that. Honestly, people, I don’t remember, nor do I know. All I do know is that it was stupid.
That’s why after awhile, when we do begin to believe in these two as a couple, it’s surprising, and a delightful one at that. Moretz and Blackley are charming personalities in their own rights, but together, they have a solid chemistry that feels all full of love and sympathy, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye on every decision the other makes. They’re a typical couple and because of that, they’re worth fighting for when all seems to go bad for Mia.
And speaking of Mia, the character, she really is a nice launching-pad for Moretz to prove that she truly is a young and bright talent to look out for. Sure, she’s gotten plenty of chances in the past to prove that she’s got what it takes to be the next Mandy Moore, or even Lindsay Lohan (neither roads end well, but you get my point), but with a performance like this, I see something of a Jena Malone. She’s cute and definitely has a certain amount of sex-appeal to the way she makes herself look, but she’s too smart and wise to get carried down by all that sappy bullshit mostly connected to stuff like high school, or love, or anything like that. Moretz definitely has an even brighter future ahead of her and now that she seems to finally be growing into her own woman, I can’t wait to see what she planned next.
But like I was saying before, because they’re a believable couple, there’s a feeling of romance in the air, but it’s the sweet and tender kind that you can only find in a romance-melodrama about two kids on the verge of graduating high school, where anything and everything seems possible. I too once was in this same position and while it didn’t quite work out well for me, it was nice to see it play out once again in front of my eyes, but this time, with something feeling of honesty that wasn’t made just to ensure that the audience would sob their guts out in the end. It’s made to have us remember the young love we may have once felt in our lives and remember that life, no matter whose, is precious.
And just like that, the sappiness got me.
Those meddling kids.
Consensus: With most of its faults lying in the gimmick it presents, If I Stay can be a bit messy, but when it wants to deliver some heartfelt, emotional scenes of young love, and people in love in general, it works well. And clearly not just for its target audience, either.
8 / 10 = Matinee!!