'If I Stay'
Gayle Forman's best-sellers are the kind of thing that should make Young Adult authors feel uneasy about their craft; the work reads like someone describing what they've been watching on television. (Forman won an award once for "writing for reluctant readers." It's as if literature contained gluten.) If I Stay preserves the essence rare. The "ex-riot grrl" mommy Kat (Mireille Enos) consoles her child: "Life is this big fat gigantic stinking mess, and that's the beauty of it." Director R. J. Cutler visualizes the azure televisionistic glow of the book as a Thomas Kinkade view of alternative Portland, Oregon.
The plot is soup made out of The Lovely Bones. Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a cello prodigy on her way to Juilliard. Instead she falls in love with a popular local rocker called Adam (the Manx actor Jamie Blackley). Mia is the classical-music loving outcast in an ex-punk rock family. Thus Iggy Pop's "The Passenger"—written in honor of Antonioni—is overlaid on a helicopter shot of a happy family mini-van driving through a winter wonderland. The van is hit by a truck, with heavy casualties. Mia, in a coma, wanders the hospital halls, wondering whether she can bear the pain of living. A nurse (Aisha Hinds) reaches out to Mia, telling her she has to fight. (The moral: everyone who dies is a quitter.)
I If I StayI braids three stories: firstly, Mia's maddeningly over-narrated first person account, explaining her every feeling. Secondly, there's the poignant past Mia revisits: having nearly murdered my love of Iggy, If I StayI threatens my love of funky, untidy three-story Pacific Northwest houses. Thirdly, there is the problem of a couple just out of high school, deeply in love, considering colleges a continent apart.
The third part could have worked. Not everyone dreams of being Sleeping Beauty, but this question of staying home or leaving for college has some real pain to it. It's a first-world problem, but that's beside the point. Nothing works here—the movie about musicians is completely tone-deaf. Blackley is like an underdeveloped Robert Pattinson, and the powerhouse Moretz gapes to mime innocence—she's not good at being shy and wistful. The cello music is seriously ordinary, even if Stacey Keach, cast to prime the pump of tears, tells Mia "You played your guts out!" This movie's guts never existed.
PG-13; 106 MIN.