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If I Stay
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Not-Quite-Gone Girl"
1 stars

Although it has occasionally been suggested that I am of a cynical, cold-hearted and borderline dyspeptic disposition, especially in reference to any film of a more sentimental nature than "Sin City 2," I have nothing at all in particular against movies that have plenty of emotions to share and are willing to do so at the drop of a hat or an especially poignant music cue. I only ask two things of such films--that they earn those big sentimental moments and that give us characters that are interesting and likable enough so that viewers can legitimately care about what happens to them in the end. The teen romantic tragedy "If I Stay" drops the ball in regards to the first part but if that had been its only major sin, I could have easily just dismissed it with a couple of mildly snarky rebukes while admitting that I am quite obviously not part of its key audience demographic of 14-year-old drama queens equally obsessed with their own mortality and whether or not that cute new boy in study hall likes them or not. Alas, "If I Stay" also whiffs things by offering up as one of its main players a character who, thanks to a combination of shabby writing and painful miscasting, is one of the biggest douchebags to ever grace a movie screen in my lifetime. As a result, his mere presence is enough to throw the whole thing off-balance and set up a bizarre challenge for viewers--how can audiences possibly hope for our star-crossed lovers to get back together again if his very presence is enough to send most of them reeling in distaste?

Based on the 2009 book by Gayle Forman, the film stars Chloe Grace Moretz as Mia Hall, a pretty-but-shy high schooler who, as the story opens, finds herself at a number of personal crossroads. A gifted cellist, she is anxiously awaiting word about whether she passed her audition to attend Juilliard, a move that would be an enormous opportunity for her but which would take her away from her uber-hipster family in Oregon--mom Kat (Mireille Enos), dad Denny (Joshua Leonard) and little brother Teddy (Jakob Davies)--to the hustle and bustle in New York. At the same time, she is up in the air regarding the status of her relationship with boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley), the lead singer of a punk rock band whose burgeoning success and frequent absences are beginning to drive a wedge between them. However, fate has something else in store for her when a drive with her family one snowy morning results in a horrible car crash and Mia watching in confusion as she sees paramedics loading her unconscious body onto an ambulance headed for the hospital.

It turns out that Mia is in a coma and her spirit is now bearing witness to everything that is happening to her. While surgeons try to save her life, she wanders the halls of the hospital observing the friends and loved ones gathered in the waiting room while trying to learn what has happened to her parents and brother. When it turns out that the news regarding her family is exceedingly grim, she finds herself flashing back on her past while contemplating whether she should keep on living or just give up the ghost and joined her loved ones. Most of these flashbacks center on Adam, who is her first love, to be true, but whose minor-league popularity (hey, his band is opening for The Shins) inspired a number of jerky moves on his part, especially after learning that Mia might want to follow up on the incredible opportunity to go to Juilliard instead of staying with him in Oregon. (His going to New York is apparently out of the question because, after all, no punk band has ever found any popular success in the Big Apple, right?)

Although there is no power on Earth that could induce me to investigate this hypothesis, I am willing to consider the notion that this undeniably melodramatic dramatic conceit might actually work on the page, where the hazy divide between Mia's brutal real-world circumstances and purgatorial musings could exist in whatever manner that the reader saw fit to portray them in the mind's eye. Alas, film is a somewhat more literal medium and in trying to convert Forman's conceit into cinematic terms, "If I Stay" falls miserably short. The whole in-between situation that Mia finds herself in--a heavy-handed metaphor for the way she has always felt slightly out-of-step throughout her life--is handled in a singularly awkward fashion that keeps reminding us that it isn't working. (Even though no one can see or hear Mia, people always manage to step out of her way just in time so as to avoid bumping into her.) I am not saying that the film should be a Gilliamesque riot of extravagant visuals but it clearly needs something more than the flat and almost aggressively bland style employed by director R.J. Cutler, a documentarian ("The September Issue") making his feature debut.

This bungled transition from the page to the screen is a problem but not an insoluble one and even when you add the collection of hackneyed bits (including a balcony scene), shamelessly tear-jerking moments, hard-to-swallow characters (including Mia's one-time rocker parents) and clunky dialogue that makes up Shauna Cross' screenplay and the overblown soundtrack, "If I Stay" might have still worked on some basic fundamental level if it weren't for the inescapable fact the character of Adam is almost unspeakably annoying in every conceivable aspect. To be frank, the character is a yutz throughout--at his very best, he is blandly forgettable and the rest of the time, he just comes across as a dweeb who, despite protestations to the contrary, is the least "punk" person imaginable, unless the film means "punk" in the the William Burroughs sense of the word. Making matters worse, the filmmakers have unfortunately made the perfect casting choice for the part in Jamie Blackley, whose whiny demeanor and bland pretty-boy looks make Adam seem even less substantial than he already is. (During one theoretically powerful and emotional scene with Mia discussing their disintegrating relationship, all I could do was notice is that he seemed to be wearing more lipstick than she was.) Face it--it is kind of hard to get emotionally involved in the life-or-death nature of Mia and Adam's relationship when she proves to be the more interesting conversationalist even during the scenes in which she is unconscious and has a tube shoved down her throat.

During scenes like this, I found myself wondering less about whether Mia would choose life or death--though death does appear to have its advantages in this particular case--and wondering more about why the wonderful Chloe Grace Moretz would choose to lend her presence to a bag of goods as shabby as this. Admittedly, she has been in a string of not-so-hot movies as of late but in most of those cases, one could rationalize her appearance--she was no doubt contractually obligated to "Kick-Ass 2" and the presence of co-star Julianne Moore and director Kimberly Peirce must have made the "Carrie" remake sound tantalizing on paper. This project, on the other hand, feels like the kind of thing that she should have outgrown a long time ago despite the fact that she is still a teenager in real life. My only guess is that she figured that she was pretty much obligated to do a gooney teen romance at some point in her career and figured that this was as good or bad as any other. She is easily the best thing in the film but she is clearly coasting throughout and only very occasionally delivers any hints of the electric personality that has made her one of the most exciting young actresses working today.Worse, not even her talents can convince us that Mia, or any other multi-celled organism of note, would give the time of day (among other things) to someone as supremely weasel-like as Adam.

"If I Stay" is a film that feels like an old teen-tragedy song like "Leader of the Pack" or "I Want My Baby Back" that has inexplicably been delivered with a straight face and played at the wrong speed. It may not contain a single sequence as irredeemably awful as the visit to Anne Frank's house in "The Fault in Our Stars" but it still manages to be an even worse cinematic experience despite that. While its target audience might forgive its trespasses--if they will willingly swallow the likes of "The Fault in Our Stars," they will presumably swallow anything--pretty much everyone else will spend most of the running time making up their own punchlines to the question "How much of a douchebag is Adam?" He is such a douchebag, for example, that his presence single-handedly makes the upcoming "Entourage" film even more superfluous than it already is. He is such a douchebag that Adam Levine has to pay him a royalty every time he opens his mouth. He is such a douchebag that he alone ensures that "If I Stay" will be certified Fresh, though perhaps not by Rotten Tomatoes.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26273&reviewer=389
originally posted: 08/21/14 18:18:39
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User Comments

9/30/14 Dillon Gonzales Passable romantic drama 3 stars
8/22/14 jervaise brooke hamster I want to bugger Chloe Grace Moretz 5 stars
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  22-Aug-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Nov-2014


  DVD: 18-Nov-2014

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