I remember once seeing a local news story about a family of four that was involved in a horrific car crash, where all but one of the victims died either instantly or within hours of the accident. As the last person held on in the hospital in a coma, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking that, for his or her sake, the lone survivor would die peacefully rather than awaken to find out their whole family was gone.
It is quite the dramatic setup, making me wonder if Gayle Forman, author of the well received YA novel If I Stay, saw the same news story. As onlookers, we’d like to imagine that the person in the coma maybe, just maybe has some realization of everything they have lost, so that they would be able to make the decision to join the others in the light, or stay and choose life.
Most of If I Stay takes place in flashback as said car-accident victim Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz) lies unconscious in the hospital while her friends and extended family visit and weep at her bedside. Teenager Mia and her family, consisting of super-cool “Dream of the 90s” parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard), and her beloved little brother (Jakob Davies), have been in a terrible accident. While her body lies in a deep coma, Mia has the ubiquitous out of body experience that strangely leaves her subject to gravity and other practical physics (she can’t walk through walls, but patiently waits to follow someone through a door, and doesn’t have the superpower to jump back into her body and, well, wake up). As Mia’s memories flash by, showing us the last year and a half of her #firstworldproblems, we sit and patiently wait for her to make up her mind if she is going to stay or not.
Mia’s problems consist of having a really cool Portland rock-star boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) and a great home life with her hipster/rocker Portland parents and awesome little brother. She is also an excellent cellist, but keeps it a secret from Adam that she has decided to audition for Julliard across the country. This bit of independence (after she is set aside by Adam as he tours with his band for weeks at a time) becomes her big secret, and a bizarre deal-breaker in their apparently long-term incommunicative relationship. Nothing like being a coma to bump those problems to kind of inconsequential in the big scheme of things.
My problems consist of watching two young actors with very little chemistry giving each other wet, open-mouthed kisses and meaningful looks, followed by teen love scenes that kind of makes you go ew (thank you, off-camera sex!). Moretz, who has been fine (Let Me In) to great (Kick-Ass) in other films, just doesn’t seem to be the right girl for the role here. I couldn’t help but think how the character would be played by other actors, like Shailene Woodley or any of the Fannings. For a story that should be a full-on tearjerker, I only shed one single tear, and that was courtesy of old pro Stacy Keach as Mia’s grieving grandfather. He gets one bedside speech that gives a hint of how you should feel while watching a literal life-and-death story like this. Instead, you find yourself looking at your watch during this rambling, way over-long movie, wanting to holler, “If you stay? Just go, Mia! GO! Let’s wrap this puppy up!!!”