Film Review: If I Stay

by Sam Robinson

Rated M. Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley. Directed by R. J. Cutler.

Young adult fiction film adaptations always prove to be hit and miss. The Twilight franchise raked in huge dollars at the box office yet lost imagination as the films progressed. Divergent was a fairly decent adaptation earlier this year, and The Fault in Our Stars was a surprise box office success.

Now, right at the end of the summer movie season comes If I Stay. Based on the 2009 novel of the same name, this is yet another teen romance set around tragedy. Unfortunately, there isn’t much to help it stand out among the pack.

Mia Hall (Moretz) is a teen who has it all. She is dearly loved by her family, has an amazing gift of cello playing, and is dating the school stud/rock star Adam Wilde (Blackley). But while travelling on an icy road with her family one day, their car is struck by another car, leaving Mia fighting for her life in a coma. This accident is the catalyst for the rest of If I Stay, with the added twist of Mia’s soul (?) being separated from her body, meaning that she oversees all the action in the hospital like a ghost.

The film plays out primarily through flashbacks to the sequence of events leading up to the accident including Mia’s relationship with Adam and her aspirations to be admitted into Julliard School in New York.

Look, I’ll be honest with you. I really wanted to like If I Stay, but the film is riddled with problems. The script is full of awful dialogue that explains everything in dummy language. For example, Adam gives Mia a gift of a pendant with a cello and guitar (to represent their respective instruments). As she opens it, we see what it is, but Adam has to then explain it to us: ‘It’s a cello and a guitar!’ There’s also loads of lines in the flashbacks that parallel what Mia is going through in her coma and it’s just so obvious.

‘It’s like dating a ghost!’

Many of the characters (including Mia) are hard to warm to because everything is just so perfect all the time. This might be a staple of teen romances but movies such as The Spectacular Now have proven things can be done differently.

Once Mia enters her coma the hospital scenes are laborious and this undercuts the emotion. Mia is bound to being an annoying ghostly presence in hospital, running through hallways, writhing on the floors, and it’s done to death. I can tell that the ‘soul overseeing the action’ would have been important in the novel, but it doesn’t translate well to film.

If you find that you enjoy watching this film – great. But I challenge you not to be frustrated by the final scene. As I finished watching the film, there were cries of anger from people around me at the way the ending was handled – not something you hear everyday!

‘If you live, if you die, it’s all up to you.’

The tension built through Mia’s coma is: will she keep hanging on, or will she give up her will to live? This is painfully represented by a hallway with a crazy white light at the end. The nurse who stays by Mia’s side reminds her that she has the choice to live or die, and Mia assesses all that she has to live for and their different merits.

As I was watching this film, I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s attitude to life and death as he writes from prison to the church in Phillipi. Philippians 1:20-22:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!

It must be said that Paul’s situation here was completely different to Mia’s. Paul was suffering great persecution for his faith and faced threats of death each and every day. But because he trusted in Christ he knew that his eternity was secure.

This didn’t mean that he saw this life as a waste of time. He saw great purpose in sharing the good news of Jesus with others, including his persecutors and jailers. Having faith in Christ gives us a new identity that goes beyond a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a cello. He gives us purpose to live each and every day for his glory.

If I Stay wants us to consider what matters to us, but fails to do so in its poor execution. I’m giving this one-and-a-half out of five stars.

If I Stay is screening now in cinemas everywhere.

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