If I Stay
Film Review by Kam Williams
A Life Hangs in the Balance in Adaptation of Bittersweet Best-Seller
Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a bright 17 year-old full of the bloom of youth. Between playing the cello purely for pleasure and dating the doting boy of her dreams (Jamie Blackley), the happy high school senior considers herself truly blessed.
She is even lucky enough to have the perfect parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) who support the idea of her majoring in classical music, whether she gets into Juilliard or simply sticks around Portland to attend Lewis & Clark College. Mia is also very close to her only sibling, Teddy (Jakob Davies), a cute kid who absolutely adores his big sister.
However, fate intervenes, or so it seems, one snowy day during a family outing when a car coming in the opposite direction veers across the highway’s double lines. Right then, in the blink of an eye, their fortunes are irreversibly altered by an unavoidable head-on crash.
By the time the ambulances and paramedics come to the rescue, all four are in grave condition, and there is a chance that none might survive the tragic accident. Mia, who has suffered a collapsed lung, a broken leg and internal bleeding, slips into a coma.
At that instant, her spirit miraculously separates from her body, and she is suddenly able to observe situations and eavesdrop on conversations like an invisible ghost. While a team of doctors struggle to stabilize her vital signs in the hospital, she watches a nurse (Aisha Hinds) lean over and whisper that “Living or dying is all up to you” into her ear.
This suggests that Mia, ultimately, must choose between ascending to Heaven and returning to Earth to face a host of challenges on the road to recovery. And suspended in this state of limbo, she’s afforded the unusual opportunity to reflect and reminisce during the critical next 24 hours before making a decision.
That is the surreal setup of If I Stay, a bittersweet flashback flick based on Gayle
Forman’s young adult novel of the same name. Although this unapologetically sentimental tearjerker will undoubtedly resonate with teens in the target demographic, the film’s surprisingly-sophisticated, thought-provoking exploration of such themes as family, friendship, love and spirituality ought to readily endear it to audiences in general.
Directed by R.J. Cutler, the movie basically revolves around introspective Mia’s contemplation of her future while factoring in her family’s grim prospects, nostalgia, and the bedside manner of visitors like her grandfather (Stacy Keach), boyfriend and BFF (Liana Liberato). Although reminiscent of The Lovely Bones (disembodied teen narrator), The Notebook (love story with a syrupy finale) and Twilight (star-crossed romance set in the Pacific Northwest), If I Stay is nevertheless a unique adventure with a tale to share all its own.
A poignant portrait of a life precipitously hanging in the balance which pushes all the right buttons to open the emotional floodgates.
Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality and mature themes
Running time: 106 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers