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We're splitting our comments into two sections, as we're going to violate our Primary Rule ("Thou shalt not compare to Source Material"). We spent over 100 minutes embedded in a group of young women, all the demographic target and more than likely already familiar with the hit novel. These "young adults (YA in studio speak) were giggling and sobbing in all the appropriate places so, if that's you, you'll have a wonderful time.
Cranky, on the other hand, is old enough to empathize from the parental demographic. Those who have read the novel know that If I Stay is the story of a high school senior, Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) whose first love is a slightly older newbie professional musician. They meet in high school -- Mia can't believe that a hunka hunka male like Adam (Jamie Blackley) could possibly be interested in her, and he takes her to a dance -- but as the film plays out flashback over flashback, it appears that Adam may actually be out of high school entirely . . . we're doing our best not to reveal important details of the story to those who have not read the book . . . and we we fail by writing that the film's raison d'être is to present Mia with a terrible choice: to stay near the First Great Love of Her Life, even though he will have to be on the road touring for, perhaps, the rest of their lives or to pursue her own musical career as a cellist, and attend the prestigious Julliard School in New York City; perhaps never seeing her FGLOHL ever again.
No problem: a midwinter car accident puts the entire Hall family in a hospital Emergency ward. Mia spends days in a coma, yet exists in a ghost-like state. While he body lies on a gurney, ventilator tube down her throat, Mia wanders the hospital halls, recollecting events of her life and seeing frantic hospital medics doing things that medics do frantically when an entire family has been torn to shreds by a car accident.
That family would include parents Kat (Mireille Enos) and Denny (Joshua Leonard) and younger brother Teddy (Jakob Davies). Boyfriend Adam is banned from the E.R. because he is not biological family . . . until the script decides otherwise and allows him in to serenade the vegetable that was his girlfriend. If I Stay is ultimately a fantasy that is set in a world where certain rules apply, until they become inconvenient (meaning they get in the way of letting the story push certain emotional buttons as it draws to a close.) It is a story which emphasizes that Mia's dad, an English teacher formerly a professional rock band drummer was a fan of 1970s cult faves Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers -- Cranky wouldn't have know that but for the fact that the studio gave us excerpts from the book at our screening. The film is chock full of music and sing alongs but not a single tune comes from the pen of Mr.. Richman! So, we'll put it simply:
IN SHORT: Did anyone writing/ producing this film actually read the book???? [Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material.106 minutes]
For twenty years we have made the effort to pay attention to the reactions of a film's target demographic, even as we sit through material that is so ineptly written or structured that it wouldn't have passed muster in a college screen writing class. If I Stay is so acutely focussed on a teengirl's first love that none of the supporting characters are properly introduced or supported -- there are a couple of girls who are either friends from school or cousins; there is at least one female adult character who I have no idea (who she is or) how she is connected to the story.
There is one touching flashback between Mia and her "Gramps" (Stacy Keach) which we remember, basically, because Keach is a star to my generation. By the time the scene comes up yours Cranky was so drowning in flashbacks that the appearance was kind of like a very tiny life preserver, thrown to keep old men like Cranky stable.
If I Stay is a terribly directed movie -- we meant it when we wrote "drowning in flashbacks" in the previous paragraph. As well, at one point in the film Mia lies on a bed in a hospital Intensive Care Unit while the monitoring equipment attached to her shows that she is dead. (The set assistant in charge of making the equipment work finally got on the ball, about three seconds late, and the appropriate monitor line began to "blip"). This is nothing that any regular viewer would notice. It is something that reviewers like me, who went through all that coma/ critical medical mishegas 25 years ago, knows up down and sideways.
But it really doesn't matter. Why?
There is a type of film that exists that those of us at parenting age adore. We get to bring our preteens to the local cineplex. We sit in the back row and watch the kidlets up front with their friends, feeling solo and grown up. That's the kind of movie If I Stay is. One that will make the feminine gender giggle and sob at story-appropriate times. One that let's the parental units (hopefully both of them) take pride in watching the kidlets grow up in front of their eyes. That's all anyone of parenting age needs to know. Any rating we could put on the film would be irrelevant since the film isn't aimed at any girl older than fifteen or so, give or take. "Inner child" feelings may be applicable, so no eMail from 40somethings that still feel like (you're) 14).
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to If I Stay, he would have paid. . .
I'm being kind. If you haven't read the book or don't have a child who has read the book, the film is a waste of your hard earned cash. What I wrote two 'graphs up is as concise as you're gonna get.
By the way . . . . . Jonathan Richman's most famous song, "Ice Cream Man" could not be that expensive to license, given that this film wastes its money on an obscure song by Blondie. Using it would have given little brother Teddy a small bit to do, which would have helped build the emotional connection between audience and action on screen. There are reasons why authors put details like (this one) into their novels. Attention should be paid.
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