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A wise, weighty 'If I Stay' transcends ages

As far as young adult books turned movies go, there often is an age at which appreciation begins to dwindle. The “Twilight” series easily comes to mind. It’s difficult to get much out of a love triangle between an awkward yet beautiful teenage girl, a handsome vampire and a well-toned, shape-shifting wolf once the teenage hormone dust has settled.

Every now and again, however, a film adaptation of a popular young adult novel transcends its target age group. “If I Stay” is one such film, complete with wisdom and moments that a person of any age could enjoy.

“If I Stay” has all the ingredients to be one of those teen sob fests, but it consistently rises above the temptation to play into the stereotypes of young love and tragedy.

First off, the film is both well written and shot. It takes place in Portland, Ore., and many scenes had me wanting to pack all my flannel and take the next plane out. The music, as well as the cinematography, goes a long way to establish the romantic images of the northwest city. Almost every character in the film is a musician, and so the soundtrack plays an integral part of the film.

The story is based around a rather weighty decision that the main character must make while having an out-of-body experience during a coma. Mia Hall, played by the versatile Chloe Grace Moretz, must choose whether or not she wants to live or pass on to the next life after she, her mother, father and younger brother get into a car crash, which leaves the three others dead.

We meet the family in the hours before the crash and then through a series of flashbacks. We learn more about Mia’s life and the people in it: her best friend, her first love, her parents, their friends, her brother and grandparents.

Mia is a 17-year-old cellist who has dreams of attending Juilliard. She also is a normal teen who struggles to fit in both with her family and among her peers.

What drives this movie are the relationships among the characters, including Mia and her best friend (played by Liana Liberato) and between Mia’s parents. One of the stand-out performances comes from Mireille Enos, who plays Mia’s mother. A reformed “rock chick,” she represents the kind of parental figure that is more and more admirable in this day and age: the woman who maintains her personality and cool factor but still is an amazing mother.

Anyone who has grown up in a loving household has that fear that it can one day all be lost in a matter of minutes. This film capitalizes on that fear and asks the audience, as it does its main character, what if you had the choice to avoid the tragedy of living without your family? There’s almost a philosophical way in the posing of the question, “Is your life without the people you need most worth living?”

At its core, “If I Stay” is a love story between a boy and a girl. And while the movie previews certainly do an excellent job at marketing to the younger girls, don’t let this make you cast it off. What perhaps makes this film universal and a refreshing break from the love stories the world has come to know in “Twilight” is the realistic female lead.

I remember Moretz from when she first appeared alongside Tina Fey in “30 Rock” in 2011. I was impressed with the sassy, blond then-kid who played a villain of sorts. In “If I Stay,” Moretz gives a toned down performance. I wished she had more of a spark on screen at times, but upon further reflection, she played the character well. After all, the film isn’t flashy or overdramatized despite its otherworldly premise, and this makes it all the better.

The ending was fairly radical, yet appropriate. The audience had a very emotional response to the final moments of the film. First, there was a large gasp, and then people allowed themselves to process what just happened. A few seconds later, in what feels like an increasingly rare occasion, a loud applause broke out as the credits began to roll.


"If I Stay"

3.5 stars

Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard

Director: R.J. Cutler

Running time: 107 minutes

Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material.

The Lowdown: Based on the popular Young Adult novel, a comatose teen must choose between life and death.

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