Thursday, August 21, 2014
Review: "If I Stay"
The harsh truth is that kid stars, even fantastically talented ones like Dakota Fanning, Abigail Breslin or Haley Joel Osment, basically get one shot to transition from child roles to adult ones. A few make it, but most don't.
Part of it is looks. (Again, this is tough love time.) The physical features that make for an irresistibly cute kid -- huge liquid eyes, cherubic cheeks, Popeye chin -- don't look so good on an adult face. Part of it is a talent that fails to evolve from simplistic portrayals of a child's emotions to the more nuanced, hidden expressions of grown-ups.
Chloë Grace Moretz would seem to have a leg up, since even as a kid she's usually played characters who seemed much older than their years. I first remember her from "(500) Days of Summer," playing Joseph Gordon-Levitt's younger but world-weary sister. Of course, most people know her as the pint-sized, homicidal Hit Girl from "Kick-Ass."
If "If I Stay," based on the book by Gayle Forman, is to be her jump into more adult roles, then it's a stumble. It's not that she's bad in it -- if anything, she's the best thing in the wobbly romantic supernatural drama.
The problem is the movie around her is not equal to her abilities. It's another one of these stories about people severed from their mortal existence, who must watch on from a ghostly perspective as life turns on without them. Here, as the title implies, her character is trying to decide if she should hang onto a life that she has come to see as meaningless, or return to chase a love that seems lost.
This film contained absolutely no surprises for me. I knew everything that was going to happen before it did, from the very moment Mia Hall (Moretz) first stumbles upon teen heartthrob Adam (Jamie Blackley) to the last glimpse we see of them.
I don't need a movie to constantly throw twists and surprises at me, or labor to keep the audience on edge. But when we know exactly where it's going and are just waiting around for the story to arrive, we feel like the film is just going through the motions.
The set up is that Mia and Adam are musicians from opposite worlds: he's a confident rocker, she's a wallflower cellist. Their initial courtship is almost painful to watch, as if the cocky guitarist feels like he's doing the unpopular girl a favor by wooing her.
The romance gets a little better, but not much. His band starts making a name for itself and doing tours all over the Pacific Northwest, while she's still got another year of high school to finish and an application to Julliard to fret about. The separation strains their relationship, and they're officially quits when Mia's family is involved in a terrible car accident.
I'm not giving anything away by stating that most of her family members are severely injured or killed. Mia herself wakes up next to her body, a wraith who follows herself to the hospital to witness her surgery and subsequent coma. She must decide whether to fight on or (literally) walk into the light.
This is one of those movies where people with life-threatening injuries are depicted with just a hairline cut or two on their face, their hair artfully arranged on a pillow. There's little sense of true peril.
Directed by R.J. Cutler from a script by Shauna Cross, "If I Stay" is tired and uninspired filmmaking. The romance, told entirely through flashbacks, is an uneven jumble of contradictory emotions and motivations. At one point Adam says, "I'm not going to be that a-hole who keeps you from going to Julliard." Then, two scenes later, he is the jerk who doesn't want her to go to Julliard.
I hope that the rule doesn't hold true for Chloë Grace Moretz, and that she gets another shot at a grown-up gig. Some kids deserve mulligans.