by James Oakey
From Twilight to The Hunger Games to Mazerunner, the past few years have seen pop-lit adaptation after adaptation after adaptation. They’ve had various success and staying power, but one thing’s for sure: if you have a screenplay to write, a novel written for teen girls is a safe place to draw from. If I Stay follows in the recent trend; a drama detailing the romance of shy high school cellist Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her Ramones-esque punk rock sweetheart Adam Wilde (Jamie Blackley) as they discover what it means to sacrifice everything for your loved one. It seems like a potentially heartwarming plot. The problem, however, is in the execution.
If I Stay opens with a few establishing scenes of the Halls, depicting them as a cringeworthy “quirky” family before going on a fatal car ride. Moretz’s Mia is the sole survivor, alive but unconscious in a coma. She experiences things in an out-of-body ghostly form, unable to interact with the people around her. Mia overhears a nurse whispering to her unconscious body, telling her that the doctors are doing all they can to save her but that she needs to fight for herself to stay alive. The rest of the story is told in flashbacks as Mia weighs her options between life and death. She thinks about her summer romance with Adam for a while before ultimately deciding that she’ll stay alive for him in the most unsatisfying decision ever made. She’s barely conflicted in her choices and her character is as static as a shopping cart on a dry day. If the story had been told from Adam’s point of view as a much more dynamic, conflicted character, it would have been much more impactful. Granted, they would have lost the supernatural coma angle, but If I Stay doesn’t do much of anything interesting with that element anyhow. The plot bumbles along, not really hitting many important theme-defining beats while it meanders through a vignette of sickeningly saccharine high school romance moments.
I should take an aside here to point out that I consider myself a fan of romantic dramas, if they’re deserving. I liked The Time Traveler’s Wife, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer, among some others. These movies, however, are much more interesting and memorable in their themes and framing than If I Stay.
The characters are portrayed… decently. While watching the movie, my girlfriend leaned over to me and joked, “The acting is better in the book.” While Moretz and Blackley do their leads passably, many of the tertiary characters leave a lot to be desired. A saving grace in the acting department, however, is Mia’s mother, played by Mireille Enos as a concerned, caring mother with a background in alternative rock. None of the character portrayals are exceptionally memorable, pretty much matching the rest of the movie as a whole.
As a movie with a prominent focus on music, If I Stay’s score is enjoyable. There were a few moments where Mia’s cello pulled a little on my heartstrings, to be sure. Adam’s rock band, while incredibly cliché to the very core, has some sets that are okay. Ultimately, this might be the strongest point of the film, but even here, nothing really stands out to me like a John Williams or Hans Zimmer score would.
Save the recent release of The Giver, I hadn’t heard of any of these pop-lit books before their theatrical announcement. As such, I was relatively unaware of the movie adaptation of If I Stay until my girlfriend brought it to my attention. In preparation to see the movie (she liked the trailers) she had read the book and was thoroughly disappointed. Even so, she took me out to see the movie and we both left feeling unsatisfied and unimpressed. If I Stay isn’t a terrible movie. It just hasn’t brought anything to the table that its Hungry Divergent Twilight brethren haven’t brought already. If you want to watch a romance drama about teenagers dying, you’re probably better off watching The Fault in Our Stars.
(Image courtesy of hypable.com)