After she is involved in a horrific car accident, Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) flashes back over her life, and the people in it, as she has to decide whether to fight for her life, or simply slip away.
Based on yet another YA novel, If I Stay actually tries to deal with an interesting theme; what we do when those we love have been taken from us, and life as we know it has been utterly changed. This is the challenge that faces young Mia after her family is involved in a deadly car crash but, unlike most of the world, she is aware of the choice that she faces, and the consequences of the decision she makes.
Chloe Grace Moretz has proven time and again that she is capable of great performances, so Mia is not really a stretch for the actress; she manages the character well, making her likeable and relatable, while capturing the feel of first love and first heartbreak. Jamie Blackley makes Adam – the love interest – a well rounded and engaging character, and for the first time in what feels like forever, the relationship between these two characters actually feel as though it is well balanced and they are allowed to be each other’s equal. The rest of the cast is made up of Mirielle Enos as Mia’s mum Kat, Joshua Leonard as Mia’s father Denny, Stacey Keach as Mia’s grandfather and Liana Liberato as Kim.
The story is really rather straightforward; young couple breaks up only to be brought back together as one of them is on the brink of death, but telling the tale backwards – as Mia flashes back over her life – makes a familiar yarn that little bit more engaging. There is nice chemistry between the two leads, and their passion for their lives apart from one another is the cause of most of their passion and most of their arguments. That said, the dialogue is rather forgettable – although there are some lines that are incredibly cringey – and there are times when the audience is left to wonder whether striving to live for the sake of an ex-boyfriend is really a life worth living. However, this is a tween romance, so there is bound to be angst and some odd decisions.
Director RJ Cutler doesn’t really leave a lasting impression on the film, other than allowing the schmaltz and perfect lives of the characters to take centre stage. The ‘ghost’ element of the story weakens the tale, as does the thin examination of Mia’s life and her reasons for living. There are moments that tug on the heartstrings, but these mostly come too late to save the film from falling victim to its own saccharine.
In all, If I Stay tries to be a different approach to a love story, but ends up being too sweet, too thin and too reminiscent of Love Story. Moretz and Blackley do well, but If I Stay is not the story that is going to restore our faith in love, rather it celebrates the idea that we, as people, feel the need to keep fighting for life. This is not a bad message by any stretch of the imagination, but it is perhaps not the one that the film set out to convey.