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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

If I Stay movie review: you see me, you really see me

by MaryAnn Johanson

If I Stay green light

Honest, emotional teen melodrama with a great performance by Chloë Grace Moretz that serves as a beautiful metaphor for the choices that teen girls face.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

High school student and brilliant student cellist Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz [Carrie, Kick-Ass 2], who is terrific, as always, here) is in a coma. Dying, even. She and her family have been in a horrific car crash, and now, as her body lies in a hospital bed, her spirit wanders the hospital, visiting her family when she can (she needs to wait for someone corporeal to open doors, as you do when you’re a ghost) and thinking back over her life, and whether it’s worth returning to.

If adapting more young-adult novels means getting more stories about teenaged girls onscreen, then hell yes: more please.

If I Stay may be rather fantastically melodramatic, and full of people far more self-aware than we generally encounter in life, but it is emotionally realistic, and in a way that movies often miss: it’s about the challenges that teenaged girls face on the scary borderland between childhood and adulthood, and how torn it can make them feel. It takes far more guts for a girl to chose to live her own life for her own self than it does for a boy, for whom romance and sex at this age are never about having to subsume his own ambitions. (Kudos to the film for depicting having sex when you’re 17 as normal and healthy, and not something everyone should be freaking out over.) And If I Stay gets that.

Later, maybe, men may have to give up or reorganize their dreams in order to have a family… but even here, that’s acknowledged, via Mia’s punky-cool parents (Mireille Enos [Sabotage, Devil’s Knot] and Joshua Leonard [The Blair Witch Project]), and especially her dad, who gave up his music to give his kids a better life. But here, even before her accident, Mia was on the verge of being forced to choose between going to college locally in Portland (Oregon) in order to be near her True Love, Adam (Jamie Blackley: The Fifth Estate, Snow White and the Huntsman), or going to Juilliard on the other side of the country in order to pursue her music.

While Mia is literally deciding whether to live or not, her predicament is a lovely metaphor for what all teen girls face as they embark upon adult life: are they going to live for themselves, or abandon themselves in order to placate others? If I Stay gets so much about that decision right. Like how Adam starts out all Manic Pixie Dream Boy but later show himself to be just as humanly complex as, you know, a human would be (which makes the decision harder: he’s not perfect!). Like how her parents recognize Mia’s passion for the cello and encourage it, even though it doesn’t jibe with their own (which complicates the sense of whether she would be disappointing them by not pursuing her dream). Like how Mia feels like she doesn’t fit in anywhere in her life, until she suddenly finds the groove that is right for her, that combines her love of her family and friends with her love of herself.

I know if I were 17 right now, If I Stay would have shot an arrow right through my heart, to think that somebody gets me.

If I Stay (2014)
US/Canada release date: Aug 22 2014 | UK release date: Aug 29 2014

MPAA: rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate bloody moments)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • (Kudos to the film for depicting having sex when you’re 17 as normal
    and healthy, and not something everyone should be freaking out over.)

    Wow, really? Until I read those words I didn’t even realize how badly this aspect of young adulthood has been portrayed on screen…. but you’re definitely right. Glad to see we’re working away from that.

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