If I Stay

Ghost Girlfriend: The Movie.
"Live for Love"

Hello friends, I know you must have been concerned that I died, and then had flashbacks in limbo about my daring and tragic life filled with love cut too short, but actually I was just really backed up with work, and that cut into the time I normally use to watch movies about exploding Draculas and girls crying about boys they like. Rest assured however that this doesn't mean that crying exploding Dracula girls are not still number one in my heart. With that out of the way, welcome back to the Tagline, where we are still in the middle of Romantic Romance Month, don't think you're off the hook. Last week we looked at the Fault in Our Stars, a movie about having cancer sort of, but mostly a movie about using the cheapest methods possible to elicit an emotional response from the audience. This week we visit a movie which is... well frankly not much better in that regard. I'm talking about If I Stay, a film based on, you guessed it, a young adult novel, and also about out-of-body experiences. This adaptation in particular stars Chloe Grace Moretz (you know the one who is going to murder you) as Mia Hall, a girl who really likes classical music, and plays the Cello all the time. She is your regular girl music prodigy-who-might-go-to-Juilliard and part of a regular kind of hippie former punk rocker family. Okay so nothing about her life is ordinary, but at least they're not trying to convince me everyone has cancer! Anyway, her life is changed forever when she meets Adam, the frontman for a local up-and-coming band that has prospects of blowing up. The two begin one of those super intense high-school relationships, but their own extraordinary lives begin to pull them apart. One day Mia goes on a trip with her family, and then they get in a super bad car accident and Mia wakes up outside of her body. Yeah that's a little out of left field right?

Well so it is with this film, and as Mia stalks the halls of the hospital she's dying in, flashing back to significant moments in her recent life, and wondering if it's worth fighting out of her coma. The bulk of the movie is given over to the flashbacks, which are punctuated by updates in the hospital. Are her parents and brother going to pull through? How are Mia's other family and friends handling things? Furthermore where is Adam? There are a lot of things that are kind of weird about this movie, so let's go through the list and start with the out of body angle. We are never really clued in as to why this is happening. Does everyone choose to live or die, or is Mia special somehow? The movie isn't letting us in on the secret, and sure I can hear some people saying "well do ANY of us really know?" No I guess we don't but that is the magic of FICTION. Playing the "great mysteries of life" angle to just never explain one of the central features of your movie is just lazy storytelling. "Things just are that way" is not an amazing plot device. While we are talking about that, it is also unfortunate that the "stay or go" plot point is more or less presented as the central conflict, because it is the most arbitrary and least relatable conflict IN the movie.

There was that... what was she a cellist in Portland?
Now I understand that the central conceit here is the whole "what would you do if the option was presented to you", but I think this gets into that "can this effectively be adapted into a movie" territory that I've considered in the past. Some ideas, while neat to explore, don't pan out well as a feature film. There are certain things that function better as a written narrative than as a movie. When we read a story, the action is ALL taking place in our minds. We naturally add something to the experience, our own imaginings and embellishments. I don't know about you, but when I watch a movie I am absorbed by it and observe what is presented. I might ask questions and extrapolate after the fact, but I rely on the film to tell me certain things, and feel like the movie isn't playing fair when it takes the low road and uses death again as the major emotional fulcrum (just like The Fault in Our Stars did). The real shame here is that i don't feel like this movie even had to do that.

Man life is just... its awful isn't it.
As a coming of age story about not just romantic relationships, but interpersonal relationships and how we balance our ambitions with them, this movie fares a lot better. In addition it is populated with actors who all but forth earnest and genuine performances, and in that regard I found the movie actually pretty engaging in spite of myself. The conflicts that Mia and Adam weathered as they tried to find a way to stay together despite their lives pulling them apart... that was pretty real, and the movie wasn't cheap or sappy about it. Sometimes life is really shitty and you aren't equipped to deal with it, and I thought that at least was a point that was well made. It just then transitioned into a not very good Twilight Zone episode about being a almost ghost. I was sort of unsure about that conceit when The Lovely Bones did it, and it just seemed really forced in this film, like being a story about people trying to cope with life just wasn't edgy enough, so there had to be a ghost girl.

So this was a movie that kind of couldn't get out of its own way, I enjoyed parts of it in spite of itself, but ultimately it succumbs to the temptation of getting a cheap rise out of you with something SO TRAGIC. All it needed was some kind of apocalypse to happen and it would have been the ideal YA movie adaptation. Didn't these guys get the memo? This does bear out the hypothesis that YA sells though, as the movie was shot for 11 million and pulled in 78. That's a pretty healthy return I'd say.

That's it for today and sorry for the interruption in our regular programming. Next week we will hopefully be treated to some crappy sci-fi, as we put kissy heart day behind us.

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