If I Stay
Director: R. J. Cuttler
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley
107 mins; Class 12;
KRS Releasing Ltd
Young adult fiction has provided the foundation of many a successful movie: from the Harry Potter franchise to The Hunger Games books via the Twilight series.
And, it’s not just the popular, fantasy-based franchises; even one-off novels have inspired filmmakers to adapt them for the big screen, with that all-too-lucrative young adult market in mind. This is done to varying degrees of success, of course.
Moving miles away from the fantasy genre, titles like If I Stay and The Fault in Our Stars have found strong literary audiences. As I write this, they are sitting in the top two places of the New York Times Young Adult Bestsellers List.
Both have been adapted to the big screen; the latter having made a multi-million dent in the box office while widely appealing to critics for its quirky and intelligent approach to teen cancer and death.
The adaptation of the latter reached Malta this week and, if comparisons between the two are odious, they are also a tad inevitable.
If I Stay also deals with death, but is painfully sombre, downbeat and a little manipulative, despite all the hard work put in by Chloë Grace Moretz, the film’s protagonist.
Moretz stars as Mia Hall, the daughter of a rather bohemian couple, whose life passion is the cello.
In her final year of high school, Mia is faced with a tough decision: pursue her career by applying to the prestigious Juilliard School or stay home to be with Adam (Jamie Blackley), a rock musician who is the love of her life.
If comparisons between the two are odious, they are also a tad inevitable
But life plays a cruel trick on her, and after a horrific car accident, Mia hangs precariously between life and death, leaving her with one momentous decision as distraught relatives and friends hover anxiously over her.
Like many of her contemporaries in the crop of exciting young talent emerging in Hollywood, Moretz is graced with effort-less naturalism, and she characteristically imbues the role with genuine emotion.
While she is consistently strong throughout and is more than capable of carrying the film, the material bogs her down at moments with its tendency towards the mawkish and its obvious pitfalls.
It says a lot that the more interesting segments in the film are the flashbacks to the years leading up to the accident.
These depict Mia’s home life with her carefree parents, her discovery of the instrument that will play such an important part in her life, the blossoming relationship with Adam and the inner conflicts she faces over her future.
It’s a strong ensemble cast. Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard give light and likeable performances as the parents, while Moretz and Blackley play together in perfect harmony.
Each makes the characters engaging enough that you care deeply for them. The whole is underscored with a pleasant soundtrack containing an eclectic mix of indie rock songs and classical cello pieces (and kudos to Moretz for being ever so convincing at the instrument).
Things get less interesting in the present, however. Although the supernatural element in the story is a nice touch, with Mia’s spirit-self looking over her body as she comes to terms with what is going on, the eventual ‘should I stay or should I go’ decision is too long drawn out.
The answer should be pretty obvious, but Mia takes her time, the film indulging in an extra half hour or so of manipulative emotions and bright white lights –leading me at one point to uncharitably exclaim to myself “oh decide, already!” as things get stretched a little too thinly, and the movie moves into movie-of-the-week territory, seriously undermining the genuine sentiment that has gone before.