Will she stay, or will she go? That’s the dilemma at the centre of the forthcoming romantic drama from director R.J Cutler (Nashville), If I Stay, based on the popular novel of the same name by Gayle Freeman, and adapted for the big screen by Shauna Cross (Whip It). But, what starts out as a decision about which direction in life to take, soon turns into a question of whether to take life at all.
Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Mia – a 17 year old caught at a crossroads between further education or a life with her boyfriend, Adam – played by Jamie Blackley (The Fifth Estate). Before she can reach that decision, however, a horrific collision on a relaxed drive rips her family from her and places her own life in the balance through serious injury. Unconscious, she revisits aspects of her life, while trying to make the ultimate life or death decision.
The trailer for this film is a curious thing. Opening in silence, we see Mia sitting alone on a stage, cello in hand, facing an audience of just a few. She is clearly nervous, and this is evidently her try-out for Julliard. As she begins to play quietly, she considers her life, and then her love – at which point her music gains passion. The passionate strings provide the backdrop for the action of the trailer – a montage of an unsure girl falling in love, finding her feet, then experiencing a terrible car accident with her family. All strong and compelling stuff.
But then we have the post-coma section – which should increase the tension, but instead feels a little ‘soap-ish.’ We hear that she has lost both parents, and see many bedside pleas for her to choose life. As she revisits more of her memories, things that are buried a little deeper begin to surface and – presumably – we gain more understanding of who she is and what is at stake. Throughout this second half, however, the audience is left wondering why there is even a question at all – since that seems to contradict the romance we’ve already been asked to believe in.
This juxtaposition is jarring, and it becomes clear that, in the finished film, this entire endeavour will hang on the shoulders of the capable Chloe Grace Moretz. Her character begins the film disconnected from the world – almost numb – until her passions are awakened by her first love, and channelled into her music. Once rendered unconscious, it is that same passion that is needed to awaken her – and Moretz must perform a delicate and subtle act in her portrayal of someone who, having felt those passions, might just find it easier to return to numbness.
If successful, this film has the potential to be a gripping drama with a stand-out central performance. If not, it will join the ranks of teen-angst melodrama movies whose romantic aspects appeal solely to the ‘tween’ demographic. The relationship contained in the film will no doubt be deftly written – Shauna Cross proved her skills in this area with the Whip It screenplay. The question is, can the creative team behind If I Stay really marry together acts one and three? The decision will be made on August 22nd, 2014.