If I Stay (2014)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #323

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 22, 2014
Genre: Drama
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $11,000,000
Box Office: $78,300,000
Running Time: 106 minutes
Director: R. J. Cutler
Producers: Denise Di Novi, Alison Greenspan
Screenplay: Shauna Cross
Based on an original novel by Gayle Forman
Cinematography: John de Borman
Score: Heitor Pereira
Editing: Keith Henderson
Studios: DiNovi Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard, Stacy Keach, Lauren Lee Smith, Liana Liberato, Aisha Hinds, Aliyah O’Brien, Jakob Davies

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Suggested Audio Candy

[1] David Hodges “Silence”

[2] Gabrielle Aplin “Salvation”

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As you’ll be more than aware by now, occasionally I like to break formation. While horror forms the backbone of my appraisal archive, it is not unknown for me to deviate from my beloved genre, particularly when an actor is involved whom I have a vested interest in. Gifted eighteen year-old Chloë Grace Moretz is one such individual. Recently I cast my eye over Kimberly Pierce’s Carrie remake and, while the film itself was somewhat par for the course as expected, Moretz won me over with her spirited portrayal of the awkward teen. She has been steadily making the transition from child actor to young lady ever since kung-fu fighting onto our screens as Hit Girl in Matthew Vaughn’s glorious Kick Ass in 2010 although she actually broke her acting duck six years prior at the tender age of seven. Here, she truly comes of age.

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Lovingly adapted from an original novel by Gayle Forman, If I Stay is the big screen directorial debut of R.J. Cutler. Despite this being his first foray as a feature film-maker, Cutler has oodles of experience to draw from after over twenty years in the industry as television producer, theater director, and documentarian; so he has more than earned his stripes. His treatment of Forman’s renowned source material is both delicate and thoughtful, dealing with a topic we are all culpable of sweeping under the rug: personal tragedy and loss. As a result, and thanks to some inspired casting by the director, his adaptation spreads its broken wings in a most resplendent manner and leaves the desired impact without compunction.

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While we’re on the subject of wings, I feel it is important to relay my coordinates when affording If I Stay the time to stake its claim on my often guarded emotional fortress. I was midway across the Atlantic on a flight bound for New York and, at 6″1, desperately seeking a way to while away a couple of hours. Historically, I have come a cropper during such expeditions. Peter Jackson’s big budget bonanza King Kong was one such misstep. The gargantuan ape was transformed into little more than Game & Watch Donkey Kong and the effect of Jackson’s bloated blockbuster was significantly lessened. Never one to learn my lesson without first reliving my blunder at least once, I then proceeded to view Alfonso Cuarón’s modern sci-fi epic Gravity under the same conditions. It was akin to attempting to cram Jaws into a goldfish bowl barely spacious enough to accommodate Roy Scheider’s chin.

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However, for every failure, there has been a resounding success. I’m speaking of Ben Stiller’s inspiring The Secret Life of Walter Mitty which I watched five times in succession before my homebound flight landed in November last year. If I Stay may come up a tad short in terms of its feel-good factor but it had just as profound an effect and left its imprint on me for some time to come. Given the subject matter being explored, I only viewed it the one time. Evidently that was all it took. Hence I sit here now waxing lyrical on what I believe to be one of 2014’s finest films. Even the lousy vacuum-packed on-flight meal couldn’t dissuade me from offering my overwhelming praise for Cutler’s wonderful story.

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Casting is of tantamount importance to a project like this and he gets it bang on the money right across the board. Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard are both flawlessly suited to the roles of Mia’s supportive parental unit Kat and Denny, a pair of fun-loving hippies who have placed their own dreams on hold to assist their first-born in realizing hers. Meanwhile, veteran Stacy Keach’s performance as Grampa leaves us utterly sideswiped, with one particularly potent reminder that an old dog can still expand on its trick-set. Jamie Blackley is also on-point as Mia’s soul mate Adam, but it is Moretz who shines with the most lucidity here. Her passage into womanhood is captured stunningly with an affecting turn showing all the poise and verve of a seasoned pro.

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Mia hasn’t followed in the footsteps left by her parents all over the punk scene and is, instead, driven to pursue a future as a cellist. She is a naturally endowed musician and currently awaiting a decision from Juilliard over whether or not she is deserving of scholarship, whilst juggling her personal relationships and coping with the everyday trials and tribulations of adolescence. Moretz actually learned to play the cello although her head was later added in post during particularly perplexing compositions. Cutler also provided her and the other cast members with an iPod during the shoot, filled to brimming with the kind of audio that best suited their characters. Clearly she was in the zone as her portrayal of Mia is nigh-on faultless and we really get a feel for where she is in her life cycle when misfortune inevitably strikes.

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One life-altering car accident later and her bright future suddenly appears far less than clearly mapped. She is left comatose and the idyllic first act is suddenly little more than a fast fading memory byte. As certain harsh realities come to light, Mia is forced to reevaluate her existence and pose herself the hardest of questions: is the pain that remains too great to consider sticking around? Life can be most cruel, never more so than when backing one so young into a corner and burdening her with loss. Moretz is ideal as Mia, her large expressive viridescent eyes tell of her heartbreak without ever a word ever needing to be spoken. Shauna Cross provides her with an intelligent and, most critically, human screenplay and she tackles it as thoughtfully as she does every role she undertakes. Even during her segment of Movie 43, amidst the acute chaos of over-emotive male hormones, she still managed to ensure that I share her menstruation blues. This is undoubtedly her best performance to date.

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John de Borman’s ethereal cinematography lends much to the haunting ambiance but it’s the picture painted of family life which resonates most strongly. We grow to cherish the Halls and wish to shield them from harm but ultimately it is out of our hands. I can identify massively with that as there’s little you can do once that clock has been punched. However, there’s a sense of hope throughout which we hold onto dearly. What could so easily have been unnecessary love interest culminates in something unexpected and refreshingly mature. All the dynamics are watertight, that’s what lifts If I Stay so effortlessly onto the wings of angels. The pain is agonizingly real but so is the joy. Thus, allowing yourself to share in the experience is something of a rite of passage.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Read Carrie (2013) Appraisal

Read Movie 43 Appraisal

Read Garden State Appraisal

Read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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