"Sometimes you make choices in life, and sometimes choices make you." If this pronouncement, made by a father to his teenage daughter, comes across as a lame attempt at conveying a profound message, you might want to steer clear of If I Stay. It's full of lines like this, enough to encourage a viewer hoping for "Deep Meaning" to throw something at the movie screen.
Popcorn tossing is not the reaction desired by the filmmakers, as If I Stay is an earnest, sincere and very serious examination of fate versus will. It struggles to be relevant and insightful, but cliche-ridden writing keeps this film, based on the 2009 young adult novel of the same name by Gayle Forman, from achieving anything close to philosophical success.
Although the characters at first seem appealing, they turn out to be just like the cool-kid high school cliques that everyone eventually despises: Mireille Enos as archly wise Portland Earth mother Kat Hall, Joshua
Leonard as Kat's almost-a-rock-star husband and perfect dad Denny Hall, Chloe Grace Moretz as their daughter Mia, who grew up at her dad's gigs before escaping the household rock ethic by falling in love with a cello, Liana Liberato as Mia's pithy best pal Kim, Jamie Blackley as Mia's guitar god boyfriend Adam Wilde, and the family's smugly alternative cohort of medical professionals, artists, musicians and whatnot, who gather for weekly "straggler" suppers of quinoa and veggies, locally brewed beer, and witty conversation on Sundays.
If you don't like these people, you may not care what happens to them. And caring about them is essential when a lighthearted ride on a beautiful snow-frosted rural road turns into a tragedy that takes over the fate portion of the plot for the Hall family. You'd think that this low-budget crash would bring on a need for urgency that would end the hackneyed dialogue but it doesn't, as the film is mostly staged in flashbacks. Platitudes abound.
Watch the Hall family exchange clever and insightful remarks about local musicians at breakfast. See ultra-smooth Adam sidle up to Mia at her high school locker and ask her out as she gazes, drop-jawed, at him. Detect the tension that mars their budding relationship when Mia starts to think that maybe she'd like to get a prestigious music education instead of following Adam around while he plays not-very-good original songs at grubby bars (Portland's well-regarded music scene is not portrayed with any accuracy here). Observe the gravitas of Mia's grandfather (Stacy Keach) as he gets some very bad news about his family from concerned and attractive physicians at a Portland hospital. And try to muster up some sympathy for Mia, who is invisibly perched in some sort of alternate dimension that allows her to view her critically damaged self in the ICU and figure out that her future isn't going to unfold the way she thought it would.
A nurse tells ventilator-supported Mia that it's up to her whether she makes it out of the ICU alive. The ethereal Mia, hovering nearby and still drop-jawed, ponders the question: Should she stay, or should she go?
It's not the actors' faults that this scenario fails to impress as a heart-rending catastrophe. They do what they can to keep straight faces while dealing with self-satisfied dialogue and an exhaustingly overused flashback setup. The real disaster here is that If I Stay, as it rambles on, may inadvertently provoke laughter instead of much more desirable empathy.
MovieStyle on 08/22/2014
Print Headline: No sign of life/Film based on young adult novel flounders with laughable dialogue