The rage of young adult romance novels adapted for the big screen is a mixed bag at best, which fittingly is the same composition of its newest addition, If I Stay.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Mia, the teenage daughter of two ex-rockers. She has good parents, and they’re a close family, but Mia is, to a certain extent, the oddball of the family. While her dad may have played the drums for an almost-big rock band, Mia loves the cello. She loves it so much, in fact, that she wants to go to Julliard. It’s a dream, one that may never happen, but a dream nonetheless.
But she’s torn. Because if she gets in to Julliard, she’ll have to leave her boyfriend Adam behind, the frontman for a band that really seems to be going places, and she doesn’t know if they can make a long-distance relationship work. Should she stay or should she go?
That question takes on a whole new meaning, however, when she’s involved in a car accident and is left in a comatose state. She can see and hear those around her, helpless and unable to interact. But as the doctors and nurses gather around her, one of the nurses tells her a secret. She has to choose whether to go or to stay. And with the lives of her family in the balance, she’s really not sure which is the better option.
From the opening credits, If I Stay has something that a lot of teenage romances lack: depth. At some points it doesn’t even feel that much like a romance, relying heavily on questions of life and death, and when life is worth living. It comes out decidedly on the side of life, which is a comforting side for the story take in an era when euthanasia and “assisted suicide” has affected our culture in such a way as to almost make suicide seem honorable. Even to teenagers who feel like the oddball in their family and who are facing rough times, this film encourages them that life can be worth living.
And loss means a lot more to Mia than it does to most fictional teens. A significant departure from most young adult stories here is the quality of Mia’s relationship with her parents. They truly care about her, showing affection and care several times throughout the story. Her mother once shoos relatives out of the room so that she can talk to her visibly upset daughter. Her father and brother help her and encourage her in practicing for her Julliard audition, and when Mia is young, her father sells some of his own toys to buy Mia her very own cello. There can be no mistake to the viewer, Mia’s mother and father are great parents.
Except when it comes to dating. Mia and Adam take it slow at first, but then later jump into bed together. It’s a committed relationship, the film wants to tell us, so it must be okay. The scenes are not graphic, showing only the beginning stages of their tryst and then later the two of them under a sheet, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. Because even while bringing in positive elements of the value of life and the value of a good family, the film willingly reinforces the most troubling aspect of many teen romances: the normalization of premarital sex.
So like the genre itself, If I Stay is a mixed bag. Yes, it has positive elements in it, and yes, it has a worthwhile message. But is that message worth sticking it through yet another film which portrays teens having sex as a normal part of a dating relationship? The answer might differ depending on the individual, but this I know for certain: it’s a worldview trade-off I wouldn’t be willing to strike with my children.