Summary : R.J. Cutler directs every scene at full heartstring tugging capacity.
For a film chock-full of music and band name-dropping, it’s a shame that director R.J. Cutler’s If I Stay is so tone deaf. And the pacing is also terminal. All jokes aside, adapting author Gayle Forman’s novel into a film looks like it was no easy task, so it’s a shame that Shauna Cross’ screenplay is such a structural mess coming after proving her girl-power sassiness with the hilarious derby girl comedy Whip It.
At least most of the cast helps keep the film from imploding, although some additional editing could have helped too, because the film is about 15 minutes too long. And just when you think it might be over, another flashback comes along full of cloying sentimentality making If I Stay only making you wish you could go.
If I Stay refers to the internal dilemma faced by teenager Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) after she winds up in a coma and deals with an out of body experience. Through her reflections and voice over we get to see every reason why she may want to stay alive. She has a loving and supportive mother and father, Denny and Kat (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos), and younger brother Teddy (Jakob Davies).
Mia also has a boyfriend who swoops into her life in the form of rocker Adam (Jamie Backley) who falls in love with her the second he sees her geeking out on her cello. Her best friend Kim (Liana Liberato) spends lots of time with her wandering school halls, attending family dinners, and at local coffee shops. Mia and Adam’s love hits the skids when he finds out she auditioned to Juilliard and could move to New York. But everything gets put on hold after the car accident and Mia has to try to decide if she wants to live.
Cue the violins!
Watching If I Stay turns into a chore toward the final third of the film when you realize how repetitious everything is. With everything being told in flashback, there’s only so much sentimentality director Cutler can wring out of the concept, but it feels like he’s sitting next to you the whole time yelling, “You’re not feeling hard enough!” in your ear. And he directs every scene at full heartstring tugging capacity.
Thankfully, Moretz makes the film far more watchable than your typical angst-filled teen romance. She makes a likeable enough couple with Davies, and feels like real friends with Liberato. The parental scenes even feel more natural than usual, but even if Enos is slightly irritating. Unfortunately, things go south very quickly at a certain point and the film never recovers. What the filmmakers of If I Stay should have done was made a film that people will want to stay and watch. As it stands, it’s just another DOA August release.
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