If I Stay

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DIR: R.J. Cutler • WRI: Shauna Cross • PRO: Denise Di Novi, Alison Greenspan • ED: Keith Henderson • DOP: John de Borman   DES: Brent Thomas   MUS: Heitor Pereira • Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Stacy keach, Liana Liberato

If I Stay reminds one of The Life and Death of Peter Sellers in that it chooses to use a framing device that feels superfluous to the narrative. Its hospital-based scenes (the lens through which we view the central plot) underscore a rather lively and touching narrative, but the film could have stood alone on its central plot. While The Fault In Our Stars examined youth and illness with plenty of attention given to the tiny nuances of the experience, If I Stay prefers instead to offer its viewers gratuitous crying scenes in place of meaningful interaction. It is these post-death, emotion-laden scenes that feel manipulatively designed to provoke adolescent passion. There is an insincerity in these moments that cannot be overlooked. The Fault In Our Stars felt like it cared about its characters. If I Stay cares about them only enough to get a rise out of its audience.

Based on a young adult novel novel by Gayle Forman, the film follows Mia, the victim of a car accident, as she replays memories from her life and relationships. These memories are full of good dialogue and distinctive characters, recalling the likes of Juno. Like a novel written in the vernacular, the viewer must overcome initial resistance to the stylistics of both the dialogue and the cinematography and, when that is achieved, these elements become irresistable. Mia’s parents are memorable characters, and the tension between generations is nicely capsulated in Mia’s desire to play cello while her father remains an old-school punk rocker.

The film is visually striking, and offers claustrophobic spaces in which Mia plays out her relationships. Rather than appearing dreamlike, these flashback sequences are the most vivid and colourful of the film. It is almost a shame that the car accident plot exists at all, because during these flashbacks we witness dialogue so sharp and funny that the hospital scenes come across as variably dull and manipulative. This framing failure really cuts away at the heart of the film which, otherwise, might have been a pleasant film about music, relationships, and the generation gap.

Its narrative is fresh enough that the viewer can’t easily settle into predicting what will happen. There are enough original turns of phrase and new variations on interactions to make If I Stay an invigorating watch – more than your average blockbuster. That it comes from a young adult novel in a time when young adult novels are pushing the boat out further than perhaps any other form of literature is relevant, although If I Stay is one of the tamer books around. A lot of viewers misunderstood The Fault In Our Stars – thinking it to be a kind of cry-fest rather than a well-researched portrayal of illness as an identity – but If I Stay offers the kind of empty experience that was claimed for Fault.

So it’s enjoyable, fresh in many ways, but not particularly nuanced or interesting. Worth a watch.

Stephen Totterdell

12A (See IFCO for details)

84 minutes

If I Stay is released 29th August

If I Stay –  Official Website

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Cinema Review: Planes

planes-trailer

 

DIR: Klay Hall • WRI: Jeffrey M. Howard • PRO: Traci Balthazor-Flynn • ED: Jeremy Milton • CAST: Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, Priyanka Chopra, Brad Garrett

What goes up, but doesn’t come down? For a long time, the answer to that riddle could have credibly been Pixar’s reputation for excellence in animation. Following a series of successively less impressive films and a disconcerting impulse to raid its own astonishing back catalogue to cook up unlikely sequels (Monsters University, Finding Nemo 2), the once great animation powerhouse now appears as fallible and opportunistic as any other studio. Planes marks another step in the decline of its quality control, as Pixar hands over the anthropomorphised-automobile world of its 2006 film, Cars (as well as some of the character designs), to allow parent-studio Disney to create what is a rather tepid, aeronautically themed spin-off from that earlier film. This bright, but wearyingly unoriginal tale focuses on Dusty Crophopper, a cropduster plane that longs to prove itself in the high-speed world of aeronautic acrobatics in a race around the globe. With the coaching of Skipper, a World War II warplane voiced by Stacy Keach, our hero seizes the opportunity to prove that it is possible to be more than what you were designed to be. He confronts his own fear of heights and faces an international line-up of rivals, including a Latin-lover Mexican plane in the garb of a luchador (Carlos Alazraqui), a stiff-upper-lipped British plane (John Cleese) and an Indian love interest ( Priyanka Chopra). To tie in with the flight theme, there are voice cameos from Top Gun’s Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards as two Navy jets, though this intended in-joke is a bit of a damp squib, not helped by the fact that neither actor’s voice is particularly recognisable.

Planes is not a bad film and will probably serve as a welcome 90 minutes of relief for parents looking for something to entertain children, particularly those kiddiwinks who already adore Cars. There isn’t anything here, however, to amuse adult chaperones. A good indication of the haemorrhaging of quality in this Cars-lite is the fact that whereas Lightning McQueen was voiced by the eccentric and interesting Owen Wilson, Dusty Crophopper is voiced by the bland Dane Cook. More problematic is the absence of the wealth of detail one would expect from even the worst Pixar film. There is no sign of the wit and invention which were the hallmarks of Pixar in its first ten years, and are evident even in Disney’s own premium animated fare, such as Tangled. Like Planes’ acrophobic hero, Disney isn’t willing to scale the heights to produce something original, but rather simply coasts on the no-brainer, sure-thing jetstream that must have been felt in whichever office or boardroom this spin-off was first mooted.

Tony McKiver

Rated G (see IFCO website for details) 

91 mins
Planes  is released on 16th August 2013

Planes –  Official Website

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