TMN Movie Review: "If I Stay"

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Mia Hall thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam. But what should have been a carefree family drive changes everything in an instant, and now her own life hangs in the balance. Caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate.
3.5

Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: August 22, 2014
Directed by: R. J. Cutler
Genre: Drama

"If I Stay" is a romantic drama based on the book by the same name by author Gayle Forman. Teenager Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) has everything. She's got wonderful parents who love her, is a talented musician and is in love with her boyfriend, Adam (Jamie Blackley). Mia is caught between deciding to follow her musical dreams by studying at Julliard or staying with Adam. All of that changes when she's in a car crash with her parents that leaves her orphaned and in a coma. Mia appears as a spirit and she is given the choice of staying with her remaining family and the guy she loves or passing away and being with the parents that she's lost. The choice that Mia now has to make decides her ultimate fate.

Mia's choice between life and death sets the stage for the majority of the film. To the filmmakers' credit, almost the entirety of the first act of the film is spent establishing characters and building the relationship between Mia and Adam, which carries a lot of the second and third acts. Over the course of the first act, the relationships between Mia, her family and Adam are all well established. During the first part of the film, the audience is allowed to follow the budding relationship between Mia and Adam as it develops over a nearly two-year period. The onscreen chemistry between Moretz and Blackley is exactly what audiences should expect from a teenage romance. The two characters obviously care about each other and the chemistry between the two actors is depicted visually to perfection for the audience.

The storyline stays fairly true to the book within the constraints of a film. The film is obviously designed to appeal to both audiences that have never read the book, and therefore have no context for the story, and those who have read and loved the book. For people who have not read the book, the story is easy to get involved in and easy to follow in the film. For those who have read the book, the film is not a disappointment. Other than the relationships between Mia and her parents and Mia and Adam, the relationship that is shown between Mia and the remainder of her family, particularly her grandparents (Stacy Keach and Gabrielle Rose), is displayed to be believably close and loving. This display of caring between characters helps to depict to the audience that the choice Mia has to make, between life and death, is truly the most important decision she makes.

The cinematography in "If I Stay" is particularly well done. The scenes are beautiful as well as realistic. The views that Mia experiences while a spirit show enough fantastic elements that they can easily be distinguished by the audience from the realistic scenes. The actors complement the scenery that they are given well, including the believable lack of reaction to Mia when she is a spirit. As a spirit, Mia is able to see her loved ones as they sit at her bedside at the hospital where her physical body is in a coma. This requires Moretz to be in two places at once, a challenge for the special effects team. To their credit, the special effects team seamlessly integrates Mia as a spirit with Mia as a comatose teenager, allowing the audience to maintain the illusion that the story onscreen is real. Despite the overly dark tones of the film, the decision between life and death, Mia's struggle with loss and the reactions of her love ones as they are tasked with sitting by her bedside attempting to advise her of what choice she should make, the film does a good job at not becoming too morose. Though some of the lighter scenes are ultimately sad for the audience, the film is broken up in such a way that it leaves the audience with hope rather than sadness at the end.

"If I Stay" is a triple threat. It's a beautiful love story, a tragedy and an engaging drama for audiences. Though the story is based on a young adult book, the film carries enough drama and enough adult situations that it remains engaging for older audiences. The adult situations in the film are not so mature that they alienate younger audiences. The humor in the film, the romantic gestures that Adam showers on Mia, help to keep the film from becoming too dark and overwhelming for audiences. By the end of the story, audiences can leave the film with a satisfactory ending, though the ending is slightly open to lead into a sequel, presumably based on the second book in the series.