Overview: Two talented artists fall in love. Then tragedy makes things awkward for the viewer. MGM; PG 13; 106 min
Lingo: Back when I was a teen (seven sad years ago), I was always keenly aware of the pandering within the construction of movies aimed at adolescent audiences. Teenagers instinctively know when adults are trying to pathetically talk like teenagers, even if the words are actually coming from the mouths of portrayed teenagers on a screen. I suppose that has to be a small degree of pre-accepted failure for any filmmaker looking to direct a film at teen audiences. But If I Stay fails even harder than the inevitable measure at this disconnect. The film’s awkward desperation of trying to relate to today’s teen language and culture was discernible even to me, someone now wholly unaware of how teens live and talk these days. That sense of desperation, most evident in plastic dialogue, gifted the movie an unintentional comedic touch, like an adult trying to fake awareness of a cool new handshake style. To make matters worse, the sexual material was handled in a way that recalled an overprotective dad trying to not be overprotective (if that makes any sense).
Hollowness: Any sense of realism and sincerity within this movie seems a forgotten priority by director R. J. Cutler. The film and its story (adapted for the screen by Shauna Cross from the Gayle Forman novel) is unabashedly solicitous of cheap emotional reaction. To measure that quantitatively: I’m a pretty emotional guy and I teared up once… maybe twice, which means, considering the cheap efforts, the film had about a ten percent success rate. Chloe Moretz as Mia and Jaime Blackley as Adam occupy hollow, circumstance-defined characters and accomplish nothing heartfelt. The only performances worthy of note are those by Stacy Keach (Gramps) and Laura Lee Smith (Willow). Keach is levels above the rest of his costars and Smith saves the film from embarrassment in each of her limited screen appearances.
Finally Over: Cutler was thrust recklessly into this project, and his familiarity with the dramatic television landscape is all too apparent in If I Stay. This film is standard. But, the target demographic may find something grab on to if they can forgive the shameless pandering.
Grade: D –