movie REVIEW – IF I STAY

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CHLOE GRACE MORETZ stars in IF I STAY, a romantic drama with a strong premise. She plays MIA, a young musician ready to finish high school and begin life. But first, she falls in love. Unfortunately, a tragic accident leaves her in a coma. Her spirit wanders between worlds, as her life flashes before her eyes, and she struggles to find a reason to STAY in this realm.

CLICK on the image to watch the TRAILER

STAY has strange sequencing as the story is told out of chronological order. It takes some getting used to. Which isn’t long. This technique actually frames the blooming relationship in a different context. It’s a refreshing approach to a familiar tale. The movie pleads for us NOT to take life for granted. It’s kind of like a first-love version of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – meets GHOST.

After an accident, MIA goes into a coma and enters IT’S A WONDERFUL afterLIFE.

I imagine this would be even better if you’ve never seen the romantic classic GHOST. It starred DEMI MOORE and PATRICK SWAYZE. They have a longer relationship together. He dies and visits her from Limbo. While STAY is a boy-meets-girl love-at-first-sight type story. We DO get to see a few of their dates and how their relationship forms and strengthens, but I wonder if GHOST worked better because the couple had a longer relationship

Jamie Blackley as ADAM

Thankfully there is a Rock N Roll element to the story – with an emphasis on Punk. The boyfriend is a rocker named Adam (JAIME BLACKLEY). For me, this made the movie a lot more interesting. It seemed like original music too with Blackley singing. It’s not like I need his album, but the songs are pretty decent.

S T A Y

Moretz has already proven to me that she can act with her scene stealing role as HIT GIRL in KICK ASS. Her starring role in the CARRIE remake showed she could handle a movie on her own. The indie film HICK showed me she could pull off drama. Her performance in LET ME IN was also perfectly haunting.

Chloe Grace Moretz

With IF I STAY Moretz portrays an 18 year old falling in love for the first time. She has a lot more dialogue than any of her previous works, and for the most part she handles it rather well. Some of the hokier moments might be more the screenplay’s fault.

Some dialogue is just too on-the-nose or obvious, like “The you –you- are is the you I fell in love with.” However, some of that works though. For example, Moretz talks of Blackley’s punk scene, “I wanna dive into Adam’s world.”

I suppose the dialogue as a whole is a bit poetic for a teen. But I went with these more lyrical moments since both of these young lovers are artists.

The parents aren’t totally annoying, like a lot of teen romances.  They love and support their kids but are still rebellious. They haven’t stopped having fun just because they’re parents with responsibilities. Don’t worry, I won’t ruin their storyline here.

Family.

I got teary-eyed when the grandmother was upset, then the grandfather (STACEY KEACH) excuses himself to leave the room before he gets emotional. Effective. Too bad it was such a brief moment. It could have been embellished even further. That said, I realize this movie is told from Moretz’s POV.

Months into the relationship… Mia’s boyfriend, Adam, inadvertently helps her grow closer to her parents. They are so supportive, and she took them for granted. Heart-breaking. Especially with the dramatic irony of what we know from the future.

Transitions between past and present could be better. Maybe the filmmakers could have come up some sort of visual trigger to signal a jump in time? Or tie together the two scenes by subject matter. For me, these connections could be more obvious.

I liked the scene where Adam decorated her ceiling. This could have been even more of a moment. It would have built the emotions up even more for the bracelet with the guitar & cello. Sure these moments are sappy, but nice cheesy moments. Like, good cheddar.

I also like how Mia talks about when she plays the cello she pictures herself inside it, like it’s her little house. This was a poetic way to express what it is intangible.

A nice moment was when Mia weighs her options on if she should stay or not – if she should wake from the coma and leave “Limbo”. But it could have been handled a bit better. It’s like there are these great “chords” but the filmmakers never isolate them long enough for them to resonate, or let us appreciate the tone and the harmony with the story & characters & emotions. It’d be nice if these things breathed a little more.

Mia’s audition was rather impressive from a performance aspect. There was a lot of complicated fretting on that cello. I assume Moretz learned how to play this specific passages. If so, big kudos. Or was that just special effects work? Or does Moretz have previous experience? I like how Grandfather secretly watches from backstage. Exciting moment, from performance, to editing, to directing. One of the best scenes in the movie. I’m glad they embellished this moment. After all, music and the cello, is Mia’s true love.

Adam plays an original song I’ll call  “Hollowed nights.” It was actually good. I like how the chorus switches up the melody drastically. Fitting a lot more notes into those bars. I like how it’s used again for the end credits. Mia asks him why he never wrote about her. He doesn’t write about things that make him happy. Just wait, buddy. You’ll have some sad sh*t to inspire you when Mia’s in that coma.

Jamie Blackley

The most powerful moment was when Mia falls to the ground, boiling with emotion and frustration, grabbing at her head, saying “I want this to be over.” Now Mia is rushed into surgery. Then we cut back to a New Year’s party. Maybe we should have cut to an equally impactful moment in their relationship.

It looks like the happy little couple breaks up. Mom tells her daughter, “Life is just this big fat stinking mess.” But there’s always a bright side. It’s the part in the romantic drama where the lovers split for 5 minutes only to get back later. In this movie, we already know that HE wants to be with her regardless of how they actually left things. It’s like a roller coaster of emotion for this young couple.

Keach (grandpa) visits her bedside in the hospital. He says her dad quit music for her not her brother. Just to give her more. To get a cello he sold his drum kit. She never knew. It’s heartbreaking, now she’ll never get to thank her father. Live. That’s how you thank him.

Grandpa continues, “If you wanna go, I want you to know it’s okay. I understand.” I got a little choked up there. He struggled with those words, and I struggled with him. Keach is such a great actor. It’s also a nice touch when we wonder if he can see the otherworldly Mia. It seems like he can. Maybe he doesn’t believe it himself? He can sense her. So he talks just in case. Just in case.

At the bonfire, playing an awesome version of TODAY.

Bonfire circle of music…. Awesome. A Cello is a solo instrument, like Mia. When she jams with everyone, she realizes she is a part of a group, part of something bigger. Her cello (voice) can blend well with another’s.

They all sing TODAY by SMASHING PUMPKINS. Great choice. Appropriate. Normally, this is a hard rock song, but here it was a really good unplugged version. Kinda bluegrass / gypsy sounding. Emotional moment. For me, music can convey energy and emotion the best of any art form. This scene is no exception. Great. Good performances too. Especially, if Chloe learned the cello for this role.

By revisiting this memory, I’m reminded of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Mia says, “Today is the greatest day I’ll ever know.” It’s priceless. It’s free. It’s her’s forever. I hope this becomes her tradition.

Another good moment was when Mia hears classical music coming from over the loud speakers. Calling her. Beckoning her to stay. I love the reveal. It was Adam playing the track on her headphones of her body in the coma. She understands it as over the speakers. A nice touch they could have further explored.

“You’re my home, Mia” – was a strong line. Oh, here we go, he wrote her a song and plays it for her. She has a few reasons to stay now, Grandpa (family), career, art, and love. Life. Choose life. Always stay. Never go.

The end montage went for dramatic effect with strange sound design, surreal editing. It forced us to miss his song. The song he wrote for her. I won’t ruin the ending here. But it was satisfying though.

I’d really like a moment around the fire honouring her family. I’d also like to see how her Grandpa reacts. I understand this is focused on the teens but there is a larger picture here that’s worth painting, or at least a few more brush strokes.

STAY was not as well done as a SPECTACULAR NOW, PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, or FAULT IN OUR STARS. But it’s better than average. It’s worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of the genre. And if you haven’t seen the movie GHOST before, I imagine this would be pretty special new territory to explore for the first time.

IF I STAY focuses on the fragility of a teenage heart. The fragility of life.  And the many reasons we ALL have to live… to STAY.

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What did you think? Was this a guilty pleasure?

Are you looking forward to these young actors’ next performances?

Moretz, promising talent

Did you like this refreshing different approach to GHOST?

CLICK on the image to watch the TRAILER

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