If I Stay
In spite of the fact that her former-rocker parents dreamt of Mia following in their guitar-wailing, hair-whipping ways, she was never into any of that. She liked … the cello. And when I say liked, I mean loved!
It didn't take long after she first tried her hand at the instrument in 2nd grade to see that Mia was something of a prodigy. When she played, the music of Beethoven and Bach swept her up. It transported her, consumed her.
And then it brought her Adam, too. She was all of 16 when he first spotted her practicing in the band room. It was her intensity and the beauty of her music that captivated the upperclassman. Adam could have gone out with just about any girl in the school. He was handsome, friendly, well-liked. He was even the frontman for a local garage band that had growing buzz. But it was the quiet and slightly awkward Mia who got his attention …
All of those facts and bits of her life, and so much more, started coming back to Mia as she stood barefoot and unseen in the hospital hallway. As the memories rushed in, it all felt bittersweet and almost nostalgic. But also terribly unreal.
The car crash had killed her mom, Mia was pretty sure. Her dad looked bad as they wheeled him in covered with blood and bandages. And her little brother was now off in another wing of this orderly, bustling building.
And then there was her own body, lying comatose on a gurney, the doctors working on it.
"If you live or you die, it's all up to you," she hears a nurse say, talking quietly but urgently to her pale, limp, helpless form.
How can this be? How can she be standing here and lying there at the same time? Nobody sees her, hears her. She can't touch anything. Is this the most horrible dream she's ever had? The last dream she'll ever have?
"You've gotta fight," the woman whispers in the ear of that oh so familiar body stretched out in front of her.
Fight? How does she do that? What can she possibly do but just stand here and watch? And even if she could, is it really worth trying so hard to live if everyone you love is either dead or dying?
As Mia's memories flood her spirit, we see much of the young woman's life played out onscreen. And it's somehow comforting, both for her and for us, that she has so many people in her life—especially her family members—who love her dearly and have purposely chosen to sacrifice for her in one way or another.
After hearing Mia play her cello for a big audition, her grandfather makes sure to tell her how incredible she was. He admits that he didn't take that same opportunity when Denny (his own son and her father) was younger. Gramps also expresses his love and tells Mia's prone form a story about her dad giving up his band and selling off his drums when she was a little girl in order to focus more on her … and buy her a cello. "Sacrifice. That's what we do for the people we love," Gramps tells her.
When Mia's best friend, Kim, stops to visit her and sit by her bedside, she pleads with Mia to come back to consciousness. Why? "You still have a family," Kim assures her. And in a conversation about his messed up family life, Adam talks glowingly about Mia's parents being so close and loving. He repeatedly talks of being committed to Mia for the long haul.
Mia spends most of the movie in a ghostly form that can walk among flesh-and-blood humans but can't be seen by them. From time to time, in moments of stress, a "bright light" portal appears—beckoning Mia to move on, apparently to another spiritual plane.
Early on in their relationship, Mia tells Adam, as they kiss, "Let's take it slow, OK?" He replies, "I love slow." But the two do eventually speed things up and race their way into sex. "Think of it like we're playing music together," Adam tells his more innocent girlfriend. And then we see them partially undress, kissing and caressing each other before the camera ducks away. In another scene, they're naked in bed, covered by a blanket. They make plans to get an apartment together when Mia leaves home for college.
A busty girl asks Adam to autograph the top of one of her not quite completely covered breasts. He does so. A female bandmate displays cleavage in a revealing top. And the camera also catches her making out with a girlfriend.
A pregnant family friend coos about the "hotness" of one of Adam's romantic choices. The woman's husband retorts with, "Stand down, woman. You're already knocked up." At a Halloween party a guy in a skeleton outfit comes up and asks Mia, "Hey, wanna bone?" "Guys play music to get laid and because they've got rage, but mostly to get laid," Denny informs his wife. Adam says he only writes songs about things that make him sad. So he tells Mia, "If you want a song, you're gonna have to cheat on me or something." "What do I do for a whole album?" she asks in reply.
Scenes from the car crash involve a skidding truck that flips and Mia's car that appears to end up a crushed, burning wad of crumpled sheet metal and shattered glass. We're spared images of the actual crash. And though Mia's mom dies at the scene, we only see the body bag she's being zipped into.
We do see Mia's body on the snowy roadside, with cuts on her face and arms, and a pool of blood seeping out from behind her back. We see her father being wheeled into the hospital on a stretcher, his face wrapped in bloody bandages. Surgeons work on Mia, the area scattered with bloody surgical pads and equipment. [Spoiler Warning] The person who appears to have been hurt the least in the accident is Mia's young brother Teddy—but we're later told that he dies from an "epidural hemorrhage of the brain."
Crude or Profane Language
A dozen exclamations of the s-word (including one casually dropped by Teddy) join a handful of uses of "a--" and "h---"; there's one use each of "d--n" and "b--ch." Jesus' name is profaned once, and God's is misused at least 10 times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Along with giving Mia her first kiss and taking her virginity, Adam introduces her to her first swig of alcohol. She drinks a shot that he buys her and "loosens up" for a rock gig. And why wouldn't he push her in that direction? He and his bandmates are regular heavy drinkers of both beer and hard liquor. (Never mind that he speaks several times of how such drinking ruined his family.) When Mia comes home at curfew, her mother encourages her to go on back out and party with Adam and his bandmates. Mom and Dad and their former rock 'n' roll pals toss back beer and more, too, on several occasions.
When his young son asks for coffee, Denny jokingly replies, "You don't give crack to someone who's already on speed."
Other Negative Elements
"Love, love, love," the Beatles once sang. "All you need is love." Indeed, love is likely the most powerful and multipurpose emotion we humans are blessed with. And it's the heart and soul of If I Stay. But this story is more than just a dewy-eyed romance.
The ardor of sighing teens, both equally in love with each other and their music, certainly sits at the dramatic core of things. But once Mia unexpectedly finds herself outside her own body, not quite dead and certainly not really still alive—this fantasy-based, young-adult fiction flick becomes more about the love of life than just the love of a cute guy.
As Mia watches herself being rushed into surgery, one of her doctors declares, "If she wants to live, she'd better start fighting." And that then becomes the film's central question: Is living and loving in a world often filled with loss, pain and even misery worth fighting and struggling for? That's a pretty pertinent query for Hollywood to make in light of recent celebrity suicides (Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman among them), and I'm happy to say that If I Stay leads teen viewers to some very positive "choose for life" conclusions.
There is another side of this pic's heart-thumping coin, however. And it centers on just how indulgent the film's view of love really is. In its world, teens slipping into bed when they feel like "love is right" is a natural expectation. Kids in same-sex relationships macking on each other? No sweat. And the "cool families that work" are those with former rocker parents who are A-OK with their young daughter hanging out at an all-night party—as long as she doesn't still have a hangover when she comes home.
It's a simplistic and juvenile worldview, to be sure. Immoral, too. But, unfortunately, it's one that YA literature and teen romance movies promulgate all too often. Within that context, the film presents Adam as being attentively self-sacrificial, and indeed he is … except when it comes to exercising restraint in the areas of libido and libation. Those are no small issues, of course. And so faster than cupid can roundhouse a passing teenager, the flick gets nudged into "maybe I should leave" territory instead of "still sitting there thinking about what might happen if I stay."
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Chloë Grace Moretz as Mia Hall; Jamie Blackley as Adam; Mireille Enos as Kat/Mom; Joshua Leonard as Denny/Dad; Liana Liberato as Kim; Stacy Keach as Gramps; Jakob Davies as Teddy
R.J. Cutler ( )
August 22, 2014
November 18, 2014