McCoy on Movies: If I Stay

McCoy on Movies: If I Stay

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“Seriously … If you say one word about how the Carrie remake didn’t meet expectations at the box office, I’m going to bludgeon your cute lil’ face with my cello. Capiche?!” Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz) gets some feedback on her cello playing from her little brother Teddy (Jakob Davies) as their mother (Mireille Enos) looks on in a scene from director R.J. Cutler’s take on Gayle Forman’s nest-selling novel IF I STAY. CREDIT: Courtesy © 2014 Warner Bros. Pictures Inc. and Metro Goldwyn Mayer Inc. All Rights Reserved



KEY CAST MEMBERS: Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard, Jamie Blackley, Jakob Davies, Gabrielle Rose, Liana Liberato, Stacy Keach and Aisha Hinds

WRITER(S): Shauna Cross (screenplay); Gayle Forman (novel on which the film is based)

DIRECTOR(S): R.J. Cutler


60 SECOND PLOT SYNOPSIS (OR AS CLOSE TO IT AS ONE CAN TRY TO MAKE): Based on Gayle Forman’s best-selling novel of the same name, If I Stay stars Chloë Grace Moretz as Mia, a high school student who is more interested in her cello than, well, just about anything else. Sure, she’s got a best-friend (Liana Liberato) to hang out with, but given the rock star past her father (Joshua Leonard) once enjoyed and her mother (Mireille Enos) and younger brother Teddy’s (Jakob Davies) love of rock, Mia feels like an outcast. The only thing that makes her feel happier about the future is an opportunity she can only dream of: Getting accepted into Juilliard to further her study of her beloved cello. But once Adam (Jamie Blackley), an aspiring rock musician in his own right takes notice of her, Mia discovers a brand new world she never envisioned.

Then her family takes a car trip through the woods of their native Oregon that completely changes all of their lives forever. 
Upon waking up in the hospital, Mia discovers she is having an out-of-body experience where she can hear everything the staff and her close family and friends are saying about the accident that has severely decimated their entire experience. This is how she comes to realize what the words of the head nurse (Aisha Hinds) truly mean: It’s up to Mia to decide if she will stay alive or die. To make her decision, Mia will begin to examine every aspect of her life: Her relationship with friends and family like Gramps (Stacy Keach), her chance of getting in Juilliard and her relationship with Adam and what it all means in the grand scheme of her existence. 
What she chooses will ultimately be the most important decision she has ever made. 

WHO WILL LIKE THIS FILM THE MOST?: Chloë Grace Moretz fans, fans of love stories that explore the characters lives beyond superficial means; classical music enthusiasts; fans of West Coast rock music circa 1990 to the present; hopeless romantics and fans of film where the bonds among people are explored in detail

WHO WON’T – OR SHOULDN’T – LIKE THIS FILM?: People who don’t find movies where teens are very mature for their age believable; anyone who hates films that have “everything comes together” moments that conveniently fit in the story; those who don’t like films where the ending feels a tad ambiguous

BOTTOM LINE – IS IT GOOD, GREAT, BAD OR DOWNRIGHT AWFUL? Featuring a mix of solid acting, maturity and fun to balance out some more heart-wrenching moments, If I Stay is surprisingly good enough to make you stay through the entire film no matter what preconceived notions you may have going in.

WHAT’S GOOD (OR BAD) ABOUT IT? The trailer for If I Stay almost does the film a disservice. If you watch either of the clips above, it almost looks as if you’re getting a bad mix of Touched By An Angel crossed with just about any other teenage romantic drama that isn’t quite as spectacular (the Spectacular Now being on such example) as it otherwise could/should/would have been. 

Fortunately, If I Stay is a solid watch that suffers neither of those problems. In fact, in a summer full of sequels, disappointments and superheroes, If I Stay is a refreshing, emotional break that will serve as not only a good date night option, but an entertaining watch regardless.

Here’s what If I Stay does well: Sets up a family that genuinely feels as if it loves each other with quirks that help showcase the essential elements of the main character, who in turn is then fully developed so that you understand the full scope of their feelings, emotions and ultimately, choices. The humor, the love of music and togetherness despite their individual differences makes the family feel like people you not only know, but want to hang out with also. This of course makes the events that follow the accident so very tragic (in a good way, as weird as it may seem to read that) as they only heighten Moretz’s character’s experience in relation to the emotion it stirs in the viewer. Enos and Leonard set the stage up perfectly as Mia’s free-spirited yet focused parents; Moretz simply knocks down the rest to bring everything into focus.

Of course, the other aspect of the film that makes If I Stay – which would be terribly predictable otherwise – feel so enticing is the chemistry between Moretz and Blakley. While many modern day depictions of teenagers in love are more likely to conjure up thoughts of Teen Mom and/or related stories that seem like fodder for stand-up comedians/parents that never want to let their children out of their site, Moretz and Blakely don’t stereotypically act their age at any turn; at the same time, they realistically make each of the situations their characters face feel true to their characters and in turn, make them feel real to the audience. Throughout her young but established career, Moretz has show a knack for playing children wise beyond their years; If I Stay finds her at her apex as a woman who just happens to be young dealing with her character’s issues and not the other way around.

Credit, of course, has to be given to director R.J. Cutler for crafting everything well and avoiding falling into traditional conventions involving death, romance and teenagers. Instead, If I Stay comes off feeling organic and highly watchable while maintaining its integrity. Mia’s and Adam’s respective musical dreams never feel like simple plot devices, the hipness of her parents comes across as genuine and Stacy Keach delivers a solid performance in a limited but important role that adds depth to the story. It all adds up to a film that takes very basic emotions and feelings, explores them and shows them in the life of one young person and how relatable they are across the human experience that – while it doesn’t break any new ground – does so in a very good, very well-toned and very fulfilling fashion.

If nothing else, it might contribute to a rise in cello and classical music sales among young people.


Columnist - Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. An award-winning stand-up comedian who also works as the public relations director at Cincinnati Museum Center, Tabari McCoy is the creator of McCoy on Movies, a blog about movies for film fans. The blog is written by someone who also likes movies that is smart enough to know his opinion isn't always the right one but is willing to express that opinion in public. McCoy also used to review movies for his college paper and a major metropolitan publication, so that helps add to his "street cred." Contact him at You can also check out more of his work on his blog at and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy.