In a year full of film adaptations of fantastical young-adult novels (Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Vampire Academy, The Giver), If I Stay confronts the audience with stark reality. Adapted from the book by Gayle Forman, the film finds its main character, Mia Hall, in a coma after a car accident with her family. It is here, between life and death, that she reflects on her relationships, her family, and her overall existence and tries to decide whether staying alive is worth a shot.
It's a heavy work, but Chloë Grace Moretz, who plays Hall, feels good about it. She knows how dark If I Stay is compared to other recent YA works, but she's confident that audiences can handle the pain.
"I think my generation is a generation that doesn't want things spoon-fed to them, you know what I mean?" she says. "I think they want to experience things for themselves, and they want to learn from watching and observing everything and taking it in on their own.
"It's an advanced generation in a way. We don't want the candy-coated relationship. We want the story where a girl does have her first love, but it's real and raw," she explains, noting If I Say does just that. The film isn't only about a young woman fighting between life and death; it's about "familial love, friendship, music, and passion," she says.
Moretz's career has been full of diverse and challenging roles. She's tackled action, horror, romance, comedy, and voice acting. But her path is a rare one for young female actors, who are often cornered into the role of "love interest" with very little in the way of character development. Moretz says her trajectory is different by design -- strong characters are what she wants to put out in the world.
"I want to show young women that you can be more than just the damsel in distress. You can take hold of your own life, be the heroine of your own story, and carry it through."
But that dedication to strength can take its toll. While she filmed If I Stay, Moretz spent three months contemplating her character's choice to live or die -- and imagining herself in the same position. So what would Moretz do in Mia's shoes?
"I'm really happy with the way my life has gone, but I can't say that I would stay," she admits. "I would love to say that I would, that I'd be able to live my legacy on, but I can't say I'd want to come back to a life where I'd never see my family, the people I love, ever again."
That's what makes author Gayle Forman's If I Stay so powerful, Moretz says, and why she hopes it will make an impact on audiences.
"It's hard to live in that atmosphere for three months, but it's sadly a very realistic scenario. These things happen all the time, and someone's entire existence is gone in the snap of a finger. It's a scary thing to live in, but I think that's part of what makes this story so special, different, and interesting."
If I Stay, starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, and Jamie Blackley. Directed by R.J. Cutler. Written by Shauna Cross. Based on the novel by Gayle Forman. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13. Opens this Friday.
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