If I Stay is an above-average tear-jerker that hits all the notes one would expect. Bumping it up a few pegs is a splendid lead performance from Chloe Grace Moretz and one of the more convincing teenage romances of recent memory.
Moretz stars as Mia, a cello prodigy who’s well on her way to a music school scholarship. Her love for the instrument and classical music is noticed by Adam (Blackley), a classmate and singer in a local rock band. The two begin to date and fall in love. Just like that, Mia’s entire family is involved in a tragic car accident. Fighting for her life, Mia has an out-of-body experience at the hospital as she realizes that only she can decide whether to live or die.
Told mostly in flashbacks, Shauna Cross’s script (working from the novel by Gayle Forman) is sharp and gives us a plethora of likable characters. From Mia’s ultra-cool parents (it must be fun for kids to think there are parents like these) to Adam, her love interest, few missteps are taken narratively. The relationship between Adam and Mia is refreshing in the way its grounded and treats the two as smart, enlightened teenagers. The hospital sequences are less engaging, even as devastating events keep transpiring. It’s not easy to convey out-of-body experiences cinematically without being cheesy and the film falls into the trap a few times.
Working in her first romantic lead role, Moretz single-handedly carries the film. Still only seventeen, perhaps the film’s authentic feel is because a high-schooler has actually been cast to play a high-schooler. She has true dramatic chops and is well on her way to becoming an Oscar-caliber actress. The supporting players are excellent, most notable being a heart-rending performance from Stacy Keach as Mia’s grandfather. A hospital bedside scene between the two will finish off anyone who is on the brink of shedding a tear.
It’s way too easy to accuse this genre of being manipulative, calculating, melodramatic, or any other of many adjectives. Some films do extract tears by liposuction and it feels slimy. If I Stay works as a fluid story that just so happens to be about loss and tragedy. It has a handful of eye-rolling moments, but they’re few and far between thanks to Moretz’s presence, a refreshing teen romance, and understated drama that works.
Studio: Warner Bros.
Length: 106 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material.
Theatrical Release: August 22, 2014
Directed by: R.J. Cutler
Written by: Shauna Cross. Based upon the novel by Gayle Forman.
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato