VOD film review: If I Stay
James R | On 20, Jan 2015
Director: R.J. Cutler
Cast: Chloe Moretz, Jamie Blackley
Watch If I Stay online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Google Play
The secret to performing a piece is not to pause – to keep going and ignore any wrong notes. Half the time, an audience won’t know what the music says anyway, let alone how it’s meant to be played. If you can keep going and be swept up in the music, everyone comes out the other end happy.
If I Stay, the story of a 17 year old girl who fights for her life after a tragic car accident while recalling her romance with a boy, doesn’t manage that. What it does manage, though, is something else entirely: to capture the importance and power of music on-screen. Because while it is the soppy tale of a doomed romance, it is also the tale of two musicians.
Chloe Moretz plays Mia, a 17 year old cellist who is applying for a place in Juilliard and is the daughter of two former rockers. She soon meets Adam (Blackley), a guitarist who falls for her after – crucially – watching her play in a rehearsal room.
Moretz and Blackley both do their best with the cliched teen smooching and fighting, the making up and making out. Their relationship plays, unsurprisingly, in flashback, while Mia lies in hospital in a coma, where family and friends visit to deliver sad, inspirational speeches – a parade of sentimental scenes interspersed with a parade of even more sentimental scenes. With kissing.
Dial your gag reflex down and the level of schmaltz is so far, so swallowable, mostly thanks to the strength of Moretz’s performance – but director R.J. Cutler ladles on more syrup with an ill-judged out-of-body narrative, which sees Chloe constantly creeping around hospital corridors, bathed in white, looking earnestly at the camera. It might work on the page, but watching it is like seeing The Lovely Bones 2: The Even Lovelier Bones.
Away from the stereotypical story lines, though, lies a surprisingly engaging plot: that of a girl and her instrument. It is rare for a movie to treat music with the importance or depth that If I Stay does – especially classical music. The last film to do so was Yaron Zilberman’s A Late Quartet, which also explored the bond between notes and the people playing them. Here, though, Beethoven is presented to its young adult audience as if it is as normal as pop, a laudable achievement in itself.
Moretz (and her cello double – her head was superimposed on another player’s body with seamless CGI) are fantastic, twiddling, bowing and swaying with believable intimacy – the same intensity that gives Blackley’s scenes on stage an earnest sincerity. The relationship between the human couple may not always engage, but their relationship with music does.
The result is a film that moves in spurts, captivates in flurries, but misses beats every time the music stops for another rest in the hospital. For hard-hearted cynics, those wrong notes jar with the sound of manipulation. For teenagers familiar with the book or those willing to get swept up in the melody, the soundtrack’s effectiveness is what gives the saccharine material some emotional substance. It makes the piece work – but only just. Despite the structure of the original novel, you get the impression the movie would flow more smoothly if the focus was solely on the music. If I Stay plays the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.
If I Stay is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.