Pin It
Favorite

High Fidelity 

If I Stay nails so much about its source material — except key details of tone

click to enlarge That Titanic move never gets old.
  • That Titanic move never gets old.

For a movie lover, the journey down the road of reading source material is a perilous one. It's axiomatic that a movie is not a book or a stage play, and that two artistic forms often demand different approaches. But it also forces a deeper interrogation of what "works" in art, and why. What does it mean to be "faithful" to the source material? And how much is it possible to separate the story from the way a given artist tells that story?

In many ways, director R.J. Cutler's adaptation of Gayle Forman's young-adult novel If I Stay is scrupulously faithful to its source material. It's the story of 18-year-old Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz), a cello prodigy awaiting news of whether she's been accepted to Juilliard. But then she's on a family car trip with her parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) and younger brother (Jakob Davies) that turns tragic. Mia awakens from the wreckage of an accident on an icy road to find that she hasn't actually awakened: Her body is in critical condition, and her out-of-body experience allows her to see the life to which she'll return if she chooses to fight for that life.

Like Forman's novel, Shauna Cross' screenplay weaves its way between flashbacks and the events at the hospital where Mia lies comatose. We see the beginnings and arc of her romance with Adam (Jamie Blackley), an on-the-rise rock band frontman who sees a kindred spirit in Mia's passion for music. And eventually we see that the weeks before the accident found Mia at a crossroads, as her own musical future in New York puts tension on the future of her relationship with Adam.

If I Stay is often truly lovely in its small character moments — which is somewhat surprising, considering Cutler's primary directing experience has been with documentaries (The September Issue), and not with actors. There's an unusual, spiky chemistry between Moretz and Blackley that hints at the occasional conflict between their respective musical worlds, while Leonard and Enos get some terrific scenes that allow their rebel history to inform their parenting without turning them into clichés of the "cool parents."

Yet there are times when If I Stay seems incapable of duplicating what was so powerful in Forman's prose. There's an almost elegiac stillness to much of the book, even as the extracorporeal Mia wrestles with devastating loss and witnesses the anguish of those around her. That's a tone filmmakers generally are afraid to attempt, and Cutler is no different.

Perhaps it's nitpicking to expect so much from If I Stay, especially when it's so generally effective as a different kind of teen romance, and as a celebration of familial love in the broadest sense of the term. A movie is not a book, and the mournful feeling evoked by a writer's words on a page is a much harder trick to pull off in a studio-approved adaptation. ♦

Trailer


If I Stay
Rated PG-13 · 106 minutes · 2014
Official Site: ifistaymovie.com
Director: R.J. Cutler
Producer: Alison Greenspan, Denise Di Novi, Brad Van Arragon and Gayle Forman
Cast: Chloƫ Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Liana Liberato, Stacy Keach, Gabrielle Rose, Jakob Davies, Ali Milner, Aisha Hinds, Gabrielle Haslett, Lauren Lee Smith, Adam Solomonian, John Tracy and Chelah Horsdal

Now Playing

Sorry there are no upcoming showtimes for If I Stay

Tags: ,

  • Pin It

Latest in Film

  • Happily Ever After?
  • Happily Ever After?

    Tomorrowland's fantastical vision of the future may leave you wanting more — or less
    • May 20, 2015
  • Wiiging Out
  • Wiiging Out

    Kristen Wiig's performance in Welcome to Me is funny, but squeamishly so
    • May 13, 2015
  • Desert Rage
  • Desert Rage

    Mad Max: Fury Road will restore your faith in action movies
    • May 13, 2015
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue
The Hustle Continues Tour feat. Juicy J, Project Pat

The Hustle Continues Tour feat. Juicy J, Project Pat @ Knitting Factory

Thu., May 28, 8-11 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

or

More by Scott Renshaw

  • Oscar Winner
  • Oscar Winner

    One killer performance overrides the high-concept sci-fi of Ex Machina
    • Apr 22, 2015
  • <i>Furious</i> Debate
  • Furious Debate

    Two critics go head-to-head over their differing perspectives on the Fast & Furious series
    • Apr 1, 2015
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Band to Watch 2015: LOOMER

    How two children of the nineties embraced the decade
    • May 20, 2015
  • Desert Rage

    Mad Max: Fury Road will restore your faith in action movies
    • May 13, 2015
  • More »

© 2015 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation