Death by formula

Death by formula
Chloe Grace Moretz plays a sensitive introvert living with an extroverted family in If I Stay, based on a 2009 young adult novel.

Review Drama

IF I STAY (PG13)

107 minutes /now showing/**

The story: High-schooler Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz) is a sensitive introvert living with a family who are the opposite of her in personality. The talented cellist meets rising rock star Adam Wilde (Jamie Blackley) and while they connect, events drive them along separate paths, until an accident forces both to reassess their choices. Based on the 2009 novel of the same name.

Films based on young adult novels do not have to be terrible experiences for older people. The Spectacular Now (2013) and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012) could be enjoyed by people of any age, because they put cinematic values first - strong dialogue, solid acting, rich tonal palette. Elements such as pressing emotional buttons and fantasy fulfillment were far down the list.

These two sins - emotional button pushing and fantasy pandering - loom large in this visualisation of the 2009 bestseller by Gayle Forman.

Girl gets very sick, relatives and boys gather round her bed to declare how much they adore her. "You will miss me when I'm gone" is a common childhood fantasy, one held by every kid who feels misunderstood and when put on film, works best as a comedy - see the Adrian Mole television series of the 1980s. Or it might work as a fairy tale (as in every version of the Sleeping Beauty myth).

This very flat and irony-impaired film rendering of this particular childhood dream often feels written from the point of view of the irritating teen who feels too smart for the room and longs for the company of clever people who "get" her depth and, in all likelihood, her angsty poetry.

To the credit of director R.J. Cutler and screenwriter Shauna Cross, they do their best to portray Mia's hipster liberal parents (played solidly by Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos) sympathetically. In fact, they become the cool, understanding and permissive parents every kid wishes he had (when, in fact, parents like that would drive their children mad, just in a different way from strict ones).

Stacy Keach as the grandfather shines - his scenes at Mia's bedside are the only ones with the intended tearjerking effect in the film. Moretz is too glamorous to play the gawky introvert Mia. Boyfriend Adam (Blackley) is supposed to be a rocker but, again, in one of the several pandering moves made here, his character is so homogenised and sweet that he feels more like a blow-up doll or a One Direction member who walked off the set of a music video.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Sept 5 in The Straits Times.

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