If you were looking to “If I Stay” to be a breath of fresh air in this recent slew of cliché teen romance-dramas, I have some bad news for you. This movie recycles teen romance trope after teen romance trope into a movie that never amounts to anything more than the sum of its stale parts.
The film begins with Mia Hall and her family venturing on a snow day trip through icy roads, which leads to a car crash that leaves her family dead and Mia comatose. The story then goes back and forth between Mia’s out-of-body experience and flashback scenes that take us through the development of her relationship with fledgling indie rock star Adam Wilde.
While this concept is a slightly fresh angle on the teen romance-drama genre, the story adamantly clings to every washed up concept the genre has to offer. Combine the unrealistic dialogue, pretension and tragedy of “The Fault in Our Stars” with a healthy amount of the leftover underground musical name dropping from “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and you will end up with something awfully close to “If I Stay.”
One of the most glaring problems with “If I Stay” is the excessive amount of idealism slathered upon the film that leaves nothing feeling realistic. The entire Hall family is well versed in punk rock lore, and of course Mia’s dad bonds with Adam over their ability to namedrop punk rock bands.
Mia is a cello prodigy with Juilliard level abilities who has a boyfriend in an indie band that is on a crash course to stardom. As romantic idealism mandates, Adam falls in love with Mia after hearing her play in the halls of school one day with no words spoken between them.
Another issue is that the vast majority of the characters are completely two dimensional and are only there to serve the role of Mia’s friend or Dad’s bandmate just because people need to have friends and bands need bandmates. This severely impacts the believability of their words at the end of the film when they try to console Mia while her body is unconscious.
These generic choices seem to have been made to allow the teenage girls who watch this film to fantasize about being in Mia’s shoes, which is fine if having generic characters and an unrealistic plot so that young girls can use the characters as placeholders for themselves is the goal, but it does not translate to good filmmaking or make for a good film-viewing experience.
Because of the young girl’s daydream-like plot, none of the tragedy feels like it has any real weight. The consequences seem unimportant when you know that the Juilliard-bound prodigy will wake up to her rock star boyfriend and everything will be fine. This is not aided by the fact that, except for one poorly acted scene, the deaths of her family members seem to have little impact upon Mia.
This feeling of a lack of consequences carries over into Mia’s relationship with Adam. There is a distinct lack of tension between their actions, with even their fights feeling anticlimactic.
Beyond the plot, the film has more issues. Though the film is, for the most part, visually well composed, bad special effects really detract from the visual enjoyment in certain scenes. One particularly bad example of this is the oversaturation applied to the world outside of the hospital window in a scene toward the end of the film. The effect looks completely unrealistic and diverted my attention from the scene.
Despite all of the negative aspects of “If I Stay,” it does succeed on a few levels. The two leads, Chloë Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley, have a nice chemistry and for the most part both play their parts well throughout the film. Their chemistry makes the flashback sequences infinitely more vivid and interesting than the hospital scenes, where they are separated.
A few of the scenes that meant to cause heartache actually manage to hit their mark, particularly the scene when the Hall family grandfather tells Mia that it is okay for her to choose to leave. I also found the use of the music throughout the film to be really well done, except for an incredibly cringe worthy scene when all of the characters sing Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today.”
Overall, “If I Stay” is a film that squanders the few original or enjoyable moments it provides and then rides out the clichés made stale by its contemporaries all the way until the unoriginal and unsatisfying end.