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Monday, June 8, 2015

If I Stay

If I Stay is a sweet, coming-of-age flick that has sufficient adult themes to keep the savvy moviegoer intrigued. As I watched, I found that the seventeen-year-old in me emerged, harkening back to the days when John Hughes films, like Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club, were on my list of favorites.

Based on the best-selling novel by Gayle Forman, the story chronicles the tragic life of Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is maneuvering her senior year in high school. Smart, pretty, and extremely talented, Mia has aspirations to enter Julliard in the fall as a concert cellist. As one would expect, she is focused, driven, and disciplined, even when distracted by the attentions of a hunky wannabe rocker, Adam Wilde (Jamie Blackley). Fortunately, her parents' bohemian, artsy attitude help keep her well-grounded, enabling her to balance academics, music, as well as a burgeoning romance.

All seems to be going to plan, until a snow day sends Mia and her family on a day trip to visit her grandparents' farm. As the car travels down the wintery road, Mia gazes out the window, her mind full of peaceful, ethereal sounds from her cello. Flashbacks take the viewer to a time to when she was a tiny girl, infatuated with this large, stringed instrument. Her passion eclipses anything her parents have experienced in the rock-n-roll world, and they soon realize they have a prodigy on their hands.

There is a wonderful scene where Mia's dad, Denny (Joshua Leonard), sinks to the floor outside her bedroom late one night and listens to her play. In a fleeting moment, he realizes his mediocre talent pales in comparison to her extraordinary ability. Mia's mother, Kat (Mireille Enos), joins him, thinking something tragic has happened, but Denny explains his revelation in a very tender exchange that grips the heart. They are overjoyed that their daughter has been touched by something that can only be described as divine.

Set on nurturing Mia's talent, Denny quits his band and takes on a teaching position to pay for private music tutors. He never tells Mia the truth of his decision, leaving her to conclude it is because of the birth of little brother, Teddy (Jakob Davies). More flashbacks take the viewer closer in time to when Mia's passionate playing of the cello catches Adam's interest for the first time. He asks her out on a date to a cello recital, and a relationship is spawned.

** SPOILER ALERT **

Up until this point, the film appears to be a benign teen flick where the main characters are conflicted by their differences in musical taste and talent and the pangs of being separated after graduation. But then the flashbacks take the viewer to current time as the family travels the snow-covered roads toward their destination. In a sudden plot twist, the car collides with an oncoming truck, bringing the music in Mia's mind to an abrupt halt.

Mia awakens on the side of the road while paramedics try to revive her. Through an out-of-body experience, she attempts in vain to communicate with them, but it is clear she has entered another dimension. White sheets, blood, and bodies on stretchers reveal the shocking truth that her beloved parents have died. Before Mia can discover what happened to Teddy, she is whisked away in an ambulance, her condition critical.

The remainder of the movie takes place in the hospital where Mia's body lies in a comatose state while her soul lingers near Teddy's bedside, hoping he will make it through. Her grandparents arrive, and the grief they experience tempts her to give up and die as well. A nice spiritual moment has a caring nurse tell the unconscious Mia it is her decision to go or stay. As Teddy shows improvement, Mia vows to live for his sake.

This notion of choosing whether to live or die when death whispers its temptations is an interesting thought that gives the story depth. All of us Christians have read the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians where he described his dilemma over choosing to die and be with the Lord or stay in his body and continue ministering to the church. This is a powerful spiritual concept that many of us believers haven't grasped, but it is an issue that Mia must face. Will Teddy's survival be enough to have her chose life over death? Or is there something else beyond family and music worth fighting-and living-for?

The movie picks up here and concentrates on the romance between Mia and Adam. Through more flashbacks, the viewer gets the sense this relationship is much more than a high school fling doomed to fade at the advent of college. Mia thinks she has found her soulmate in this young musician who values her talents and music aspirations, but when Julliard becomes a possibility, trouble begins. As it turns out, Adam isn't as supportive as she had hoped. To his mind, Mia should sacrifice her plans for his, agreeing to accompany him on the road as he takes his successful band on tour. While I wasn't thrilled with some of the sexual overtones in some of the scenes, I did like the tender moments between Mia and Kat where loving, practical advice on young romance was espoused. The sacrificial love Kat and Denny have for their daughter and her dream is what sold me on this film.

When Teddy succumbs to death, Mia is faced with the grueling decision of living out her life and enduring the pains of grief or give up and meet her family on the other side. Her condition worsens and the odds of her recovery narrow. In a touching scene at her hospital bedside, her grandpa reluctantly, yet lovingly, gives her permission to die.

Just when the audience is convinced this story will end on a depressing note, Adam rushes to her bedside to lend his support, but the nurses will not let him through; he isn't immediate family, and yet, ironically, he knows what she needs to hold on to life. Through some careful maneuvering, he is able to get to her bedside just as she is about to slip over into death. As her soul walks toward a bright light, Mia hears the beautiful cello performance from her Julliard audition now playing from Adam's phone. He reads from her acceptance letter and vows to follow her to New York to help live out her dream- if she will only stay.

I won't give away the ending, but I'm sure you can guess how things end up. Sometimes with a great story, it isn't the outcome, but the ride the character takes to reach an expected conclusion. Holding on tight to a dream and never giving up despite the terrible obstacles is a universal theme that resonates in the hearts of so many people, especially Christians desiring to advance God's kingdom. Will all of us choose to stand our ground and live the life the heavenly father has destined for us, or will we give up, cave in and quit?

If I Stay is entertaining, insightful, and surprisingly uplifting despite its tragic turns. A nice little gem of a film!

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