If I Stay was 2014’s big (ish) teen romance. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, in a role that is relatively tame compared to her usual character choices, R. J. Cutler’s film took Gayle Forman’s popular novel and adapted it for the mass market. A commercial hit, but somewhat of a critical flop, Cutler’s film is an intimate portrait of adolescent love. It’s wet and soppy. It’s a little unbelievable – but that’s down to the source material – but, if you’re a fan of similar fare such as The Notebook and The Lucky One (or anything Nicholas Sparks related, i. e. full of tragedy), this is for you.
The premise is an original one, taken from Forman’s novel, which is said to be written in a lyrical prose. Music is a main theme, pairing classical and indie to great effect. Moretz portrays Mia, a talented cellist. Jamie Blackley (in a breakout role) is Adam, love-interest and frontman for rising rock band Williamette Stone. These two characters are pretty much the sole focus of the film, which is interesting, yet problematic. If I Stay follows Mia as she experiences an out of body experience following a fatal car crash with her family. This alone is an unfathomable loss, but the main sense of grief is centered on her on-again off-again relationship with Adam. Fourteen year olds will love watching this romance play out – older audiences will question the relevance this holds following Mia‘s family tragedy.While viewing, this doesn’t really register, upon refl
ection the issues of the narrative come to the surface and cloud the overall effectiveness of the film.
Its not all bad, though. Blackley is electric in his first position as leading man. Sexy, confident and broody, he channels an indie energy that is often seen in male characters within Brit cinema – it’s nice to say goodbye to an all-American hero for once. The chemistry between the pair never reaches the depths of McAdams and Gosling, or DiCaprio and Danes, but Moretz and Blackley play their respective roles dutifully and together create a romance worth rooting for. Mireille Enos supports as Kat and stands out as a captivating talent in the little screen time she has – watch out for future performances from this kooky young actress.
While the script and run-time lets Cutler’s picture down, the cinematography and soundtrack make up for it. Juxtaposing rock legends with classical names, Heitor Pereira has chosen a carefully selected score which music fanatics will certainly appreciate. The musical component plays a strong part, and watching the story of both leads play out in respect to this is one of the most captivating elements. A backyard party which sees the cello meet the acoustic guitar lends to a stand-out scene, as messages of family ties and young love radiates from the screen.
Generally, If I Stay is an enjoyable, yet intense, watch that will serve as a guilty pleasure for many. The whole idea of wanting to live on because of true love is fairy-tale esque, and does hold a sense of beauty, but this alone gets tangled up amongst different strands of loss. Having said that, there’s a mass audience for this kind of genre, and those that seek it out for this reason, will treasure Cutler’s adaptation.