Movie News & Reviews

August 20, 2014

'If I Stay' is a complex tale on love's power

The simple description for "If I Stay" is that it looks at a life and death decision.

But taking such a simplistic approach would be unfair.

Director R.J. Cutler's film of Gayle Forman's best-selling novel is a complex examination of how love takes many forms and each version can bring its own heart-lifting highs and heart-breaking lows. How we deal with it is what shapes us as human beings and serves as the blueprint of the film.

The focus comes through Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teen whose love of her family is equal to the love she has for music. A new passion comes into her life when she meets free-spirited musician Adam (Jamie Blackley). Mia's head spins as she tries to figure out how to deal with her life.

That changes in a blink. A car accident leaves Mia hanging in a space between life and death. There are as many good reasons for why she should give up the fight and embrace death as there are for her to battle to stay alive.

"If I Stay" never falls into an emotional funk. Cutler flows between the present and the past to show Mia's loving connection to her family, music and friends in her life. This design makes it difficult to predict where this story will end, an accomplishment considering the limited options.

It is easy to love the performance by Moretz, who gets better and better with each film. This film throws an emotional hurricane at her and she stands up to each blast — both good and bad. Her face shows a myriad of emotions whether it's the confusion she finds when Mia's pressed into an uncomfortable social situation or the exhilaration she gets from playing the cello.

Moretz doesn't have to portray the emotional peaks and valleys on her own.

Blackley matches each emotional breath with Moretz, whether it's the early joy that comes with young love or the pain love can cause when there's a chance it can be lost. It's a bonus that Blackley has the musical skills to make that part of his character realistic.

Matching the strength of these two young lovers is the supporting cast. The performances by Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos as Mia's parents have depth. It shows that adults in these kind of movies can do more than just toss out words of wisdom.

Stacy Keach, who plays Mia's grandfather, turns in the performance of his career. His bedside speech that lovingly puts the entire movie into perspective is delivered with an emotional rawness that is captivating.

He's just one of the many powerful elements that makes "If I Stay" easy to love.


"If I Stay," rated PG-13 for sexual material. Stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Stacy Keach, Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard. Directed by R.J. Cutler. Running time: 106 minutes. Grade: B+


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