If I Stay is the latest example of a publishing phenomenon called Young Adult Literature or "YA" for short. For better or for worse, we live in a world where there are now shelves at Barnes and Noble dedicated to "teen fiction" and "YA" and "supernatural romance." This is, I guess, because many of these books have proven to be big money. Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Twilight, Divergent, and The Fault in our Stars are a few examples.
Of course, Hollywood has followed the money, and many of these books are given lavish film adaptations. It's hard to judge a whole "genre", especially when defenders of the thing constantly shift the goalposts and stretch definitions. A genre that claims to include both Lord of the Flies and Twilight is, perhaps, impossible to debate about.
So I hesitate before I lump in my complaints with If I Stay, the film adaptation of a YA novel of the same name, with criticisms of a whole genre. But it seems to me impossible to escape concluding that the warm, emotionally manipulative and indulgent shittiness that is If I Stay is symptomatic of at least a broader trend.
Let's talk about the movie first. It stars the unstoppable, resplendent Chloe Grace Moretz as a high school girl who is quiet, great at the cello, and in love with her dreamboat boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley), who wields a guitar and sweetly broods with the best of them. She faces "realistic" teenage problems"”deciding about college and whether to stay with her beau.
These choices are made even more stressful when she gets in a car crash that kills the rest of her family and dooms her to a coma. She has an out of body experience and a lot of flashbacks that help her decide whether to come back and keep living or to die.
There are few problems with this as a film qua film. The acting is fine; the photography is fine. There is nothing really inventive, but that's the only problem. The sound design and editing are quite good"”if this film does anything to interest children in classical music, then I can forgive it a multitude of sins.
The problem is in the story, and the problem is that it the story is, well, morally repugnant. It takes the histrionics of your typical teenager and depicts them on camera at an emotional height adeptly mirroring their "real world" hormonal stupor.
And it does absolutely nothing else.
I'm not going to go so far as to write off an entire genre. Many books and films aimed at young people have brought wisdom and pleasure to audiences of all ages. But I am hesitant about an entire subgenre that makes billions in profits off of indulging the most passing fancies of youth without offering any path to leaving them behind, to successful sublimation or the slightest of civilizing influences.
Still, these stories reflect something real"”the frenzy with which their readers attack critics is proof of this. Any path out of the current crisis must offer good alternatives. I like Jane Austen and Shakespeare. But how can these musty relics compete with the shine and glitz of a billion dollars?
I don't have the answer.
If I were to grade this movie on how well it achieves what it set out to achieve, I would probably give it a B. If I were to grade it on my personal opinion of what this story has to offer anyone, I would give it a D-. So I guess we'll have to muddle through with a C.