By: Kevin Jordan
If I Care.
While it’s true that the majority of reviews I’ve written cover action and superhero movies, I have been known to watch and even review romantic comedies and romantic dramas from time to time. In fact, I’ll do it just to break up the cacophony and seemingly endless string of action flicks if for no other reason than sanity. One can only take so many explosions, car chases, and shoot-outs before one’s brain threatens to arbitrarily start shutting down random limbs and organs in protest. So it was that I decided to screen If I Stay, a movie that is the opposite of an action flick, though does still feature a high speed car wreck. (Full disclosure: I actually was hoping to screen Expendables 3, but no advanced screenings were held.)
I don’t want you to think I go out of my way to avoid chick flicks just because I’m a dude. I just prefer action flicks in theaters because of visual and audio effects that are far better on the big screen. But, just like with action flicks, other movies need to have coherent stories with decently written characters for me to like them. P.S. I Love You and Definitely, Maybe are two very good chick flicks that I enjoyed very much. Last year, I went out of my way to watch Safe Haven – a movie that was not only a chick flick, but a Nicholas Sparks chick flick – and my brain was very happy with me and thought the movie was pretty good. One thing about If I Stay – it was a little awkward going alone to a movie aimed directly at teenage girls (and sitting next to gaggles of them), but that’s really their problem.
Going into If I Stay, I only knew what I saw in limited trailers – Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) is in a terrible car accident and her boyfriend, Adam (Jaime Blackley) sits by her comatose body in the hospital pleading with her not to die. It’s the kind of movie that screams tear-jerker and talking with a couple people beforehand, they heard the same thing. I fully expected the entire theater to be under water by the third act, as a quick glance around the theater showed a gal-to-guy ratio of roughly 79-to-1. Instead, I heard only one person outright sobbing and only a handful of sniffles. Either the women and teenage girls in the theater were really good at stifling their sadness or this movie failed to elicit the response it so openly demanded. The latter seemed to be true as I only saw dry eyes leaving the theater and my own reaction was “The book had to be better than this film because the film kind of sucked.”
(Mild SPOILERS coming, but like the movie, they’re nothing to cry over. Thank you. I’ll be here all week.)
The biggest problem with the film is that it never lives up to its title. Most of the film is a mix of Mia’s spirit (soul? ghost?) wandering around the hospital where her comatose body lies and flashbacks of her past. During surgery a nurse whispers to Mia that she is the only one with the power to decide if she lives or dies, so the flashbacks and events in the hospital are supposed to be the things that she considers while making her decision. Except that doesn’t really happen. At no point during the film does it ever feel like Mia is really thinking about reasons to stay. In fact, the film gives her every reason not to stay, including her boyfriend (we’ll get to him in a moment). She just wanders from room to room, listening for any news about her father (Joshua Leonard), mother (Mireille Enos), and brother (Jakob Davies) who were also in the accident. They will even go so far as to have her grandfather (Stacy Keach) give her his blessing to give up on life because it would be easier. Inspiring guy, that Gramps.
Mia has two things from her past (besides her family) that are supposed to be the major things to stay for – love for Adam and love for her cello, or in other words, the two things that spend time between her legs. The cello is her deeper love and key to a successful life, culminating in an audition for Juilliard. Adam is her first love and key to a life as his girlfriend/groupie. You see, Adam is an aspiring rock star whose career begins to take off after he graduates from high school (he’s a year older than Mia). Before his ascent, he does everything he can to make Mia happy, takes her virginity in a run-down boathouse (though doesn’t have the courtesy to bring a blanket to protect from such things as splinters), and they even make plans to move in together. When he starts going on the road for gigs, he becomes a dick when she mentions her Juilliard audition because “that would break their plans to move in together” even though he continually breaks other plans they have (including her birthday). She rightly calls out his hypocrisy and they break up for a while because she doesn’t want to be his groupie. He later atones, they have make-up sex in her bedroom, then break up again later for the same reason. Guess what, Mia? You’re his groupie.
Unfortunately, the screenwriting isn’t remotely strong enough to make us believe in her love for the cello either. She constantly doubts her abilities and is essentially forced by her family to apply to Juilliard. What’s worse is nobody even bothers to bring her cello to the hospital as a kind of talisman to help wake her up, even though it was her entire life, or even tell her how important her music was to them (I’m looking at you again, Gramps).
As I sat there trying extremely hard to make connections between the hospital and flashbacks, I noticed a lot of little things in the movie that were either lazy or outright mistakes. For starters, when Mia’s spirit “wakes up” in the snow after the accident, she is wearing different clothes than what is on her unconscious body. The next thing I noticed is that Mia seems to have a physical effect on people or things when she touches them. I don’t if this was intentional or a mistake, but it really bothered me that people weren’t reacting to their clothes being scrunched up or wrinkled by some invisible force. This seemed confirmed early on by having Mia move between rooms only when doors were open, but the director gives up on this and just puts Mia where she needs to be when the script calls for it. The most egregiously lazy thing they do is put the guy who caused the accident in the room right next to Mia’s body, then completely forget they ever did that. Wouldn’t it have been great to see Mia confront the guy? If the actual story had been better, I might not have noticed these things, but then I wasn’t the only one lacking tears.
At the risk of being called heartless, I didn’t care if Mia decided to live or die by the end of the film. Or rather, I didn’t care any more about her than I did the rest of her family, and we didn’t spend the majority of the film with them. The film misses every opportunity to make us believe in the love between Adam and Mia or even Mia and her father, including having them play music together – until the end of the film, at which point it’s too late. They don’t even pick good background music to help tell the story or use music to move the story forward. Did the filmmakers even read the script (or book) before they made this film? You know what – don’t answer that. Like I said, I don’t care.
Rating: Ask for all of your money back. The movie really couldn’t have been more blah if it tried.