Review Roundup: Best-Selling YA Novel IF I STAY Hits Theaters Today
IF I STAY, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, hits theaters today, August 22nd.
In the movie, Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) thought the hardest decision she would ever face would be whether to pursue her musical dreams at Juilliard or follow a different path to be with the love of her life, Adam (Jamie Blackley). But what should have been a carefree family drive changes everything in an instant, and now her own life hangs in the balance. Caught between life and death for one revealing day, Mia has only one decision left, which will not only decide her future but her ultimate fate.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
A.O. Scott, The New York Times: The grief and sorrow are punctuated, and to some extent made bearable, by jabs of warmth and humor arising from family affection and adolescent romance. The director, R. J. Cutler...has a way of underplaying large feelings and amplifying subtle shifts of mood...It may be that Ms. Moretz captures Mia's seriousness about her art -- and her joy in it -- so credibly because it reflects her own. At 17 and already a decade into her career, this remarkable actress is still exploring the far reaches of her range, and it's always exciting to watch her test herself. Playing a more or less ordinary teenager facing more or less typical pressures is not easy, and to the extent that "If I Stay" is genuinely interesting as well as weep-worthy, it is largely because of her.
Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press: Like all successful YA novels brought to screen, "If I Stay," based on the 2009 teen tearjerker by Gayle Forman, brings with it a ready-made audience. All the filmmakers need do is cast the most appealing couple they can find and stay faithful to the story, and the kids should be happy. It's safe to say director R.J. Cutler has done that -- Moretz is beautiful to look at, and as her rocker boyfriend, Jamie Blackley is satisfyingly sensitive and hunky. And they have good lips. This is one screen couple that knows how to kiss. If only the dialogue worked as well. Shauna Cross' script lapses into syrupy platitudes far too often. Just as a scene is building, you may suddenly feel like you've walked into a life-size Hallmark card.
Jon Frosch, The Hollywood Reporter: It's easy to see why Chloe Grace Moretz wanted to be in If I Stay -- it's an adaptation of a hit YA book, she's a rapidly rising star and the role is her first full-fledged romantic lead. But a few minutes into the drippy teen love-and-death story, you'll likely wish she hadn't. That is, unless you're a teenager yourself, which may mean you'll be swooning too hard to be bothered by the lame dialogue, heartstring-yanking music and tired visual approach...It doesn't help that Cutler relies on a stable of formal clichés, including a falling-in-love montage, a boozy party shot in handheld, a blast of white light when an unconscious character drifts toward death and a scene in which the camera circles Mia anxiously as she overhears bad news.
Justin Chang, Variety: A horrific road accident leaves a teenage girl stranded between life and death in "If I Stay," a life-flashing-before-her-eyes melodrama that similarly hovers in a weird limbo between sensitivity and clumsiness. Out-of-body experiences and gooey romantic interludes aside, this adaptation of Gayle Forman's 2009 bestseller hinges on the sort of relatably horrific worst-nightmare scenario that naturally invites, and rewards, a certain level of viewer empathy. But while many in the audience may well find themselves getting misty-eyed as the screen fades to white and softly crooned rock tunes flood the soundtrack, the overall execution is so pedestrian that it's possible to feel more moved by the filmmakers' good intentions than by the actual emotional content onscreen.
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: This generation of writers should be exceedingly grateful for this generation of actors, particularly in the sub-genre of Dying Teen Girl Dramas...now Chloë Grace Moretz performs similar alchemy on "If I Stay," bringing depth and poignancy to a film that often threatens to have the emotional depth of a sad-face emoticon. Screenwriter Shauna Cross...overloads the proceedings with lots of precious, dialogue-y dialogue. Just when it seems like "If I Stay" will be incapable of a genuine moment, however, Moretz and co-star Jamie Blackley ("The Fifth Estate") will share a look between them that's so palpably romantic that it magically erases up to three or four phony scenes that came before it.
Stephanie Zacharek, The Village Voice: There's something morbidly gratifying about the supercalifragilistically supernatural elements ofIf I Stay, even if the movie isn't ultimately as effective as it could be. The last third drags, as the list of tragic reasons for Mia to step toward that beckoning white light just grows and grows. But Cutler...is hardly a bumbler, and he approaches all these teenage hyperfeelings with respect and sensitivity. It doesn't hurt that he has Moretz in his corner...She makes out-of-body Mia's excessive soul-searching seem wholly believable: There's a vulnerable softness to her eyes that suggests she really is thinking and feeling all the time, suspended in that gel of emotional turmoil we remember as teenagerhood.
Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News: Who wouldn't well up watching a teenage girl survive a horrifically devastating car crash, only to fall into a life-threatening coma? The problem is, we can feel each heartstring being tugged, almost mechanically. The movie is designed not to explore the experience of illness, or first love, or adolescence, but merely to make us swoon, sigh, and sob. Cutler and screenwriter Shauna Cross are generally successful in those limited goals, it must be said. But they've adapted Gayle Forman's popular young adult novel in undeniably broad fashion, turning Forman's characters into central casting representations rather than people we can imagine existing.
Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune: Artfully assaultive, "If I Stay" is better than average young adult material, cleverly adapted from Gayle Forman's 2009 novel about a teenage cellist experiencing true love, a terrible car crash and magical realism for the first time...Director R.J. Cutler...has succeeded with "If I Stay" where several recent movies taken from teen-aimed fiction have come up a little short...Cutler doesn't treat this fantastical premise for anything resembling grit. Each scene, every aspect of Mia's romance, the one we see unfolding in flashbacks, is perfectly coiffed...Yet there's a compelling push-pull to the Mia/Adam relationship and its stressors, more nuanced than you usually get in this sort of thing...Cutler is selling a certain kind of product with "If I Stay," but he sells it honestly and well.
David Blaustein, ABC News: "If I Stay" wants you to weep -- and you will. My issue is there should've been even more weeping, and less manipulation. But I suspect the majority of the audience, especially the pre-teen and teen boys and girls who've read the Gayle Forman bestselling novel on which the movie's based, won't really care -- nor will a few uneven performances sully their love for a movie about a girl whose soul may be saved by a cute boy with a guitar.