September 5, 2014
The cello is my favorite musical instrument. One of my favorite movies of all time is the Japanese Oscar Best Foreign Language film winner "Departures" and a cello played a prominent part in that one. "If I Stay" is another film in which a cello takes center stage, and I would not miss it even for that reason alone.
"If I Stay" is a dramatic film about a shy cello-playing teenager named Mia Hall. She has cool supportive parents, who were once in the punk scene. Her boyfriend Adam is the front man of an up-and-coming rock band. Everything seemed to be going swimmingly with her. She is awaiting for her acceptance letter from the Julliard School. Then one beautiful winter day, a tragic car accident happens.
I was looking forward to good cello music, and this film did not disappoint. The cello-playing scene on their first date and those of Mia auditioning by video and again in San Francisco were breathtaking. As it turns out though, the cello music is not the only thing good about this film.
This film is a tearjerker of the highest order. The script was written in very emotional language by Shauna Cross, based on a best-selling novel by Gayle Forman. I have not read the book yet so I cannot comment how the film interpreted it. The cast, though mostly not very well-known, does very well in bringing this script to life.
Chloe Grace Moretz is really a phenomenal young actress to watch. She first gained attention as the ultra-violent It Girl, the best part of the "Kick Ass" films. Now more grown-up as Mia, Moretz provides this role the grace and elegance. A lesser actress may have made those death scenes mawkish and those romance scenes cheesy. Her impassioned performance alone makes this film worth watching.
Jamie Blackley was fine as Mia's boyfriend Adam. Too bad his chemistry with Moretz was not entirely convincing. Their intimate love scenes were especially awkward to watch. However, I do like the actors who played Mia's too-good-to-be-true parents Denny and Kat, Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos. That New Year's Day scene in the kitchen where Kat was drying the dishes that Mia washed was especially well-written and well- acted out.
I had seen Liana Liberato before in her intense film debut as a victim of child rape in the devastatingly chilling "Truth." She also did well here in a much smaller role as Mia's loyal friend Kim. The other strong supporting role is that of Mia's loving grandfather played by Stacy Keach. Remarkably, I think this is the first time I had seen perennial movie bad guy Keach in a role that left him so emotionally raw.
The storytelling, with its weaving in and out of past and present events, was very well-edited together. However, the pace taken by Director RJ Custer can feel very slow and repetitive at certain times in the middle, which made me look at my watch a few times.
Overall though, it was effective in its intention as a tear-jerking romantic film. Its picture-perfect cinematography and moody music make sure of that. I found the issues in this film more relatable than those in another recent young-adult weeper, "The Fault in Our Stars". Get ready to have your tear glands wrung out with the many touching scenes in this film. In fact by the final scene, I actually felt all cried out. 7/10