Movie Review: If I Stay (based on the YA novel by Gayle Forman)

‘If I Stay’ is the recent movie adaptation of Gayle Forman’s young adult novel with the same name. Chloe Grace Moretz stars as the film’s lead, Mia, alongside the very handsome Jamie Blackley who plays the film’s love interest Adam. Before I get in to the parts of the movie I didn’t like, I’ll just point out a few things that I think are worthy of commendation.

The conversation with Adam and Mia in the hallway was amusing. He walks over looking all cool and confident.

And then he’s like:
“You’re Mia. … Good, I just wanted to clear that up. There were rumours.”

Although the romance was largely undeveloped, there were cute scenes in the movie. Like Adam and Mia ice skating and the way he made the ceiling in her bedroom in to the same ceiling she would have to audition under for Juilliard. That was very thoughtful of him and the music scenes in the film were really really good.

But other than that, I was largely disappointed…

Set mainly in a hospital, involving a lot of pointless running around and attempts to communicate with people who clearly couldn’t see Mia, the film was so anti-climatic and emotionless that it ceased to have much effect on me. It was fast paced in all the wrong places, speeding through the important scenes like the car crash and the development of Mia and Adam’s romance and it moved slowly in all of the other scenes that shouldn’t have held nearly as much significance as they did.

The plot is a great one, with so much potential to unravel in to something spectacular and moving. A 17 year old girl (Mia) has an out of body experience when she becomes the victim of a car crash that basically kills off her whole family. There are so many directions that this could’ve gone in, but I just felt like it took the easy way out. Never mind the wonderful trailer moments that lull you in to thinking that this is going to be an amazingly touching and emotional movie, it lacks substance and the shock-factor needed to bring this story to life.

Possibly the worst thing about the film, was the fact that the car crash was depicted in such a subtle and uneventful light. It happens on an immaculate “snow day”, which is definitely the perfect setting and opportunity to create a striking contrast between beauty and disaster. Mia comes in with this whole meaningful line that is enhanced by the dramatic effect of the voice over, about how crazy it is that one minute life can be one thing and then in an instant it becomes something else. But when the car crashes, what actually changes?

Mia in the car just before it crashes.

In comparison to the scene in the book, which very graphically describes pieces of Mia’s dad’s brain strewn across the floor looking like cauliflower and her leg having the skin and flesh ripped off to the degree that she can see her own leg bone, the movie gives us absolutely nothing.

Both of Mia’s legs perfectly intact.

A very simplistic car crash.

I mean, can you imagine how amazing that scene could’ve been? The striking colour of blood and flesh against the pure white snow really would’ve revealed how in an instant, life can actually become something else. But all we got was Chloe Grace Moretz looking all pretty and angelic as she laid across the fresh white snow, hair carefully placed in a fan around her cute little head. There is barely anything disastrous about that. In fact, what we’ve actually been given is something beautiful (Mia) placed alongside something innocent (the snow) and had it not been for the dishevelled car in the background, I would have been wondering whether or not the disaster had actually come yet.

Mia looking like an angel in the snow.

The crash scene was supposed to be the epicentre of the whole movie, but it failed to have any kind of emotional impact on me.

After this scene, the film is basically a ticking time bomb where one family member dies about every twenty minutes or so. But it was completely unemotional because Mia didn’t even give a crap about any of them anyway. The central theme to every one of her flashbacks was Adam. We saw one scene where she explained how her dad had given up being in his rock band and sold all of his equipment to be able to afford to buy her a cello, but that was the only family flashback we got. Perhaps the point of showing so much of Adam, was to remind us of the fact that if Mia were to wake up, then she would be waking up only to him. But even that doesn’t seem likely, because she still has her best friend Kim and her doting grandparents who love and care about her. The whole movie is supposed to be this debate whereby Mia is deciding which is better, to live or to die, but she really only gave us one side of the story.

The whole film then goes on to become the Adam and Mia show. They fall in love after 10 seconds and suddenly we’re plunged six feet in to a world where Adam is the only thing that matters to Mia and Mia is the only thing that matters to everybody else. I had a hard time believing that there was any real connection between the two characters, other than the fact that the book dictates they must be together. They did not exist as creations, they existed as words. Like, this is Adam and Mia and they are in love.

The relationship starts when Adam glimpses Mia playing the cello in a rehearsal room at school. It’s got that kind of love-at-first-sight angle to it and it would have worked perfectly had Adam not gone in with the cheesy one liner:

“You can’t hide in that rehearsal room forever. It’s too late. I see you.”

But he does and it works because Adam and Mia ending up going on a date to see a concert cellist at this beautiful performance hall that I immediately fell in love with.

The concert cellist.

The cellist played immaculately and the music scenes in this movie were really very commendable. Adam’s band were fun and energetic on stage and they were great to watch and every scene with Mia playing the cello was captivating. Everything about the music scenes was right.

Adam’s band playing a concert.

Mia doing her thing on the cello.

It’s just a shame that most other parts of the movie felt so wrong. Immediately after seeing the cellist play, this irrevocable link between Adam and Mia just seems to establish itself and in a matter of minutes at that.

Adam and Mia holding hands at the concert.

Following this, we see a lot more kissing, around every ten minutes I’d say. If Adam is in the scene, there’s a 90% chance that it will end in a kiss and although I don’t have a problem with on screen displays of affection, it’s just that it makes the romance seem very one dimensional when that’s the only thing they seem to spend their time doing.

The romance started with the click of a finger and blossomed in the blink of an eye. And that was one of the main problems with the film. How are audiences supposed to connect with characters that they barely know?

Having not read a single word of the book when I saw the movie at the beginning of this week, I went in there expecting to get a real sense of who these characters were and what they were about. I got Mia – music enthusiast, introvert, feels like an outsider as a musician in a family of musicians… yeah I really didn’t get that and I still don’t. But I didn’t get Adam. He had an interesting back story about his parents that was barely revealed to us and I felt that this was quite a shame.

After a while, I actually found Adam and Mia quite uncomfortable to watch. They were portrayed, in my opinion, as two teenagers trying to have a very adult relationship. They planned to move in together at just seventeen years old and the fact that the romance went from zero to massively intense in the space of about half an hour, really did just put me off.

Steamy make out session in Mia’s room. Um, parents? They’re just downstairs for the record.

I think it’s pretty self-explanatory what’s happening here..

Much of the script was also very cheesy and dramatic. The parents felt like they were trying too hard to be quirky and Adam and Mia felt like they were trying too hard to be deep and romantic.

Lines like “Why do I have this feeling you’re about to mess up my entire life?” – Yes, why do you have that feeling Mia? He only took you to to see a cellist and if anything, that’s something that could only enrich your life as a musician.

Similarly, the “It’s too late, I see you.” line from Adam just had me rolling my eyes. What do you see Adam? You glimpsed Mia playing the cello for sixty seconds at most as you were walking through the school hallway and suddenly you can see in to her soul? Please. Do you have some sort of special vision that we don’t know about? Are you superhuman?

And speaking of superhuman, is Mia superhuman? How is it, that the whole way through the film we keep getting told that she has the power to decide whether she lives or dies? It just ends with her waking up and none of this is explained!

My main problem with the ‘If I Stay’ movie, was that it was difficult to understand and believe in if you haven’t read the book. A lot of the book fans absolutely loved the movie. But as someone who went in there with a completely blank slate, I actually came out feeling more confused about everything than I was when I walked in. Films shouldn’t be that way and you shouldn’t have to read a book before you see the film to fall in love with it. Like I said, it was difficult to believe that Adam and Mia’s romance was real and not just orchestrated for the point of the plot. Even if a romance is set up as a plot device, you shouldn’t know this, otherwise it’s just not enticing is it? How good can a story be if you feel like the two main characters are only together to keep the plot moving..

It was even more difficult to believe that Mia was facing any kind of conflict as to whether she should wake up or not. In the end and from the very beginning really, all she seemed to want was Adam and I just can’t understand how there was any kind of struggle or debate in choosing whether to wake up, when this was the case all along.

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