We haven’t had many romance stories this year. No, the remake of Endless Love doesn’t count. More times than not, there’s something sweet about them. They also have the unique power to either tug at your heart strings or make you want to bang your head against a wall. If I Stay, based on the young adult novel by Gayle Forman, doesn’t necessarily do either of these things, and ultimately manages to not be horrible or outstanding in the process, but watchable if you enjoy romance without too much melodrama.
Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a cello-playing prodigy. Coming from a household of former music aficionados – her dad Denny (Joshua Leonard) used to play in a band and he and her mom Kat (Mireille Enos) are big on rock music – Mia is determined and passionate about the cello and classical music. Between practicing the cello, auditioning for Julliard, and falling in love with another musician Adam (Jamie Blackley), Mia has a lot going for her.
All this comes to an abrupt halt as an ordinary drive on a snow day results in a car accident that leaves Mia comatose and her family worse for wear. Caught in limbo between life and death, Mia is thrust back to certain moments in her life as she watches them like a movie reel playing out of order. Between what her life once was and what might be, she has to choose between a post-accident life where everything’s drastically changed, or peace in death and leaving everything behind.
The film relies heavily on its music, all to varying degrees. There’s almost a shift as extremely different genres of music clash and interlock, complementing every scene with the type of music that suits it best. Mia and Adam are vastly different, as is obvious by their drastically opposite musical styles. They almost seem like they’re on opposite sides of the spectrum, yet they try to make it work because they both understand music in its most pure form, regardless of what the end result sounds like. So there are plenty of conversations about music, how music makes them feel, and metaphors about life in musical terminology.
The film isn’t too sickly sweet, but does have its moments of melodrama for the sake of creating conflict. Jamie Blackley is cute as Mia’s love interest and musician. He doesn’t try too hard and can angst as well, albeit very briefly. Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos as Mia’s parents are two of the highlights of the film. They have a fantastic presence and really lift the film up from being too much of a drag. There are overtly cheesy conversations, but the moments are quiet and sweet enough that they don’t make you want to roll your eyes.
Chloë Grace Moretz isn’t particularly inspiring here and her character comes off as a little stiff and her line delivery feels occasionally wooden. There isn’t as much expression going in her face as there maybe should be and in comparison to all the other characters, she’s probably the least interesting. Given that she’s the lead character in the film, this proves to be somewhat problematic when we have her in a scene where the focus is solely on her.
One of the issues the film has is its pacing. It moves too slowly and drags on when it doesn’t need to. Fifteen minutes could have been shaved off of the run time without detracting from the pace or story. As soon as the accident happens, we know what Mia will choose, so the memories of her life are solely there to give us more plot and background. The not-quite-linear storytelling works for the most part, but becomes a bit tedious near the end when it’s served the story and is of no more use.
If you’re into more of the fun romantic kind of young adult film, then The Fault in Our Stars might be more for you. If I Stay isn’t an epic or a truly genuine kind of romance film and tends to take a bit too long trying to give us Mia’s epiphany, but fans of the book and general audiences alike might walk away sniffling and fulfilled (there was some of this going on in the theater) or feeling like they’ve neither gained or lost anything by watching. Not awful, nothing special, but average.