A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that If I Stay is a romantic teen tearjerker based on Gayle Forman's best-selling 2009 novel. It will appeal to the same audience as The Fault in Our Stars -- i.e., teens and adults familiar with the book or interested in coming-of-age romances. Because the story follows a young cellist (Chloe Moretz) who's comatose and must choose between life and death, there are understandably some upsetting and devastating sequences, including a fatal car crash that's revisited throughout the movie. Mia and her boyfriend Adam's (Jamie Blackley) love story is mature, passionate, and includes two non-gratuitous sex scenes (bare shoulders shown). The dialogue is occasionally punctuated with strong language like "s--t" and "bitch," and there are a couple of scenes of underage drinking in a music venue. If your teens have read the book or are ready for character deaths and near-death experiences, this is a poignant and romantic film that depicts one of YA's most beloved literary couples.
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What's the story?
IF I STAY -- an adaptation of the emotional contemporary YA romance by Gayle Forman -- follows Mia Hall (Chloe Moretz), a brilliant 17-year-old cellist with an amazing life. She has an amazing rocker boyfriend named Adam (Jamie Blackley), cool parents, an adoring little brother, and a nearly assured acceptance to Juilliard. But then, on an unexpected snow day, the unthinkable happens, and Mia's family is involved in a fatal car accident. Standing over her comatose body, Mia realizes she can see what's happening to her from an in-between state of consciousness. She follows her body back to the hospital, where she learns the fate of her family and has flashbacks to memorable times in her life -- from learning the cello to falling in love with Adam. As Adam, Mia's grandparents, and her best friend, Kim (Liana Liberato), try to convince her to wake up, Mia must decide whether to fight and live or join her family in death.
Is it any good?
If I Stay won't work for everyone, particularly viewers who don't care about young adult romances, but those who give it a chance will be rewarded with one of YA's sweetest relationships. The two main characters are ably portrayed by Moretz and British newcomer Blackley. A musical theater vet, Blackley plays Adam more like an indie rock singer-songwriter than the alterno-punk version of him in the book, but he's still up there with Augustus Waters, Lloyd Dobler, Michael Moscovitz, and Patrick Verona as one of the best teen boyfriends in pop culture. This can be a heartbreaking story, but it's also hopeful. Mia's tale shows how transformative love and art are and how we're happiest with people who see and support what makes us unique.
Fans of the book will be understandably biased in their experience of the movie, because director Greg Berlanti has fully captured what author Forman calls "all the feels" of her book while still making a few necessary changes for the visual translation of the story. Moretz trained for six months to portray a cello prodigy, and it shows -- the scenes of her playing (even if a professional is what audiences hear) are beautiful and poignant. Admittedly the "in limbo Mia" conceit might seem overly sentimental, but as Mia's memories begin to unfold, viewers will be pleasantly immersed in her back story -- from her hipster parents (lovingly played by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) to her awesomely supportive BFF Kim to her hilariously punk-loving baby brother, and, of course, her life-changing relationship with Adam.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether If I Stay is a successful adaptation. What changes did the filmmakers make? Do you understand why they made them? What parts of the movie captured the book best, and what parts of the book did you miss not seeing in the movie?
Do you prefer adaptations based on realistic fiction or based on genre fiction, like dystopian/paranormal stories? Why do you think there are so many YA adaptations out there?
How does the movie depict sex? Is Mia and Adam's relationship realistic? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Discuss the role of music in the movie. How is music a big part of Mia and Adam's romance?
- In theaters: August 22, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: November 18, 2014
- Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Liana Liberato
- Director: R.J. Cutler
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some sexual material
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