Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Written by Shauna Cross, based on the novel by Gayle Forman
Directed by R.J. Cutler
Starring Chloe Grace Moritz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley and more
Nothing makes me feel older than watching a certain kind of teenage romance.
I love nothing more than a good love story, but that's slightly less true when the protagonists are starry-eyed, passionate, hopelessly naive teenagers. They fight about the most ridiculous things, would rather see the world as ending than try to compromise to even the smallest degree, and are convinced that the world will always look the same as it does when they're 17.
Mostly, these emotions are entirely accurate to their age, and if I were a teenager again I'm quite certain I would swoon, sigh and weep along with the characters onscreen. Instead, I want to slap some sense into them, shake them until they stop being so stubbornly, ridiculously certain that they'll die if things don't happen the way they want them to. Life is so much more complicated than they realize, and if they stop being stupid for five minutes they'll see that for themselves.
"If I Stay," the dream-like adaptation of the best-selling novel, is a perfect example of why I feel this way. The movie pits love in a direct battle against death as a young musician, played with an equally dreamy air by Chloe Grace Moritz, has to decide whether to live or die after a crash killed the rest of her family and put her in a coma. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) her boyfriend wants her back.
Since this is a love story, we're forced to witness every fight she and her rocker boyfriend have over the course of the movie. She feels insecure, he doesn't understand, they have beautifully lit sex in an appropriately picturesque place, they fight, she dies missing him, he says ridiculous one-sided things and the cycle repeats himself. Yes, we get snippets of dialogue that make it clear he's had a tough life, and Moritz and actor Jamie Blackley have some nice chemistry at times.
In the end, though, all I could think was that there was no way their romance was going to survive college. If you're going to pick something to battle death with, this isn't it.
Familial love, however, is a different story. Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos create a lovely, subtle moving portrait of aging rockers who manage to be awesome parents without giving up their wild edge, and the beauty that can be found in making compromises for the things that matter most. Anyone would be lucky to have parents like these two, and it's easy to imagine their loss as so shattering that their eldest daughter might consider never waking up from her coma.
Stacy Keach is nearly as moving as Leonard's father, regretting his own choices made as a father and wanting to do better with his granddaughter. He has a speech near the end that was lovingly crafted by scientists to turn you into a sobbing wreck, and he delivers it beautifully.
Moritz also seems to blossom in the scenes with her family, as the "normal" daughter who loves her family but feels out of place in the group of punk rebels. She has some lovely moments with her family – an impromptu jam session, a heartbreaking moment with her little brother in the hospital – and if the movie had focused more on that I'm pretty sure it would have broken my heart.
That's the kind of love story I'll always have time for.