‘If I Stay’ decently made film with a good cast

By Gary Clift

As we begin our discussion of the new teen girls movie “If I Stay,” let me slip in one note for the adult film fans. The movie features Texan Mireille Enos as the mother. Enos has had a heck of a professional year, playing Brad Pitt’s noble wife in “World War Z,” then playing a nut-case adrenaline junkie in “Sabotage” alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, and now playing a former band-member girlfriend turned “super mom” to a character played by Chloe Grace Moretz.

In fact, Enos may be the only actor in California who is a hotter property just now than is Moretz. Watch out for her.

Younger readers may just want to watch her in “If I Stay,” a tear-jerking romance about two star-crossed kids in contemporary Portland. This is a decently well-made movie, with a good cast, a big budget, and a cinematographer (John de Boreman) who knows his business, and it is based on sufficiently detailed research that they give their indy Rock hero the correct guitar to play.

Not that this is a great movie. The story struggles to make its conflicts seem important. After all, boy and girl are in love early and that doesn’t change throughout the picture. They really only have two disagreements on which much of the viewers’ interest must depend.

For one thing, cellist Mia (Moretz, who obvious can play the cello) isn’t really part of the Rock music scene. When she is approached by songwriter and band-leader Adam (Jamie Blackley), she is ready to fall in love. Which she does. But she isn’t necessarily ready to fit in with his friends.

Nor is he a regular symphony auditor. But he takes her to a well-attended cello recital and seems to enjoy himself. Or maybe he just enjoys holding hands with her.

The characters talk about Pop and Serious music as if the twain of their supporters could never meet. This is a fake conflict. Guys who read lit. also read detective stories. Graffiti heads get a charge out of art museum shows. All five percussionists in my elementary school orchestra had their union cards and were out playing in dance bands at the same time, shortly after they completed high school.

Besides, Mia’s dad (Joshua Leonard, first sighted in “The Blair Witch Project”) used to be a Rock musician, and a locally famous one. The idea that Mia and Adam might not get along because they like different kinds of music is a weak conflict.

The stronger one is better but still pretty limp. Mia decides that she wants to go to the Julliard School in New York City. Adam’s band is becoming a regional power. The couple may have to split up when she graduates from high school.

Now this is a very common teen-age problem. So common it hardly seems to be the sort of thing you could hang a movie on. So we get the car wreck.

One day Mia’s happy family is cruising along the highway. They are in a car wreck—I can’t tell you more than that. It is serious. Ambulances are called. And Mia finds herself separated from her body, running around in the halls of the emergency ward, unable to get anybody to listen to her.

A nurse (twice) and her grandfather urge her to “fight” for her life. In a scattered way, she recalls her life to date and begins trying to decide if she would do better living or dying. Then Adam swipes a letter sent by Julliard admissions to her family’s mailbox. Will the school’s reaction to her application and audition help her to decide whether or not to fight?

Does the fighting question arrive too late in the film? Is there enough of a story here to keep viewers’ attention until we get to the emergency room crisis? I wondered.

Surely most younger viewers will find the romance of club appearances and date nights, weekly pot luck dinners and school scenes to be interesting enough to keep them watching.

But so very much depends on Moretz, here. She has to be fascinating, and she really is only a kid, just seventeen and already known for the “Kick-Ass” movies and the “Carrie” re-make. The producers are asking a lot of her here. But I think the movie’s natural audience will be satisfied with her performance.

Last time I saw the guys from the drum section in my elementary school orchestra, by the way, two of them were arguing about a tempo for Mussorgsky. One of them is still playing in a dance band.

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