If I Stay (2014)

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Chloe Grace Moretz plays teenager Mia Hall. While she was born to a couple of “too cool” rocker parents, she gravitated to the cello and classical music from a very young age. And she has since blossomed into something of a prodigy, eventually landing an audition with Juilliard. Meanwhile, she also happens to have a rocker boyfriend whose band is really taking off. If we were to look at these elements in isolation, they’d easily fit into any standard teenage movie or TV sitcom. But, of course, there’s a twist.

Based the book of the same name, If I Stay takes a dramatic turn early on in the movie when Mia’s family is involved in a nasty car accident. She finds herself in an out-of-body experience, watching as the paramedics wheel her body off to the hospital. Eventually, we learn that the rest of her family doesn’t make it (not really a spoiler) and she has to decide if she wants to come back to this world as an orphan or if she wants to leave with her family to the great beyond.

The tale is told by intermittently switching between flashback sequences, most of which explore Mia’s relationship with her boyfriend, and the out-of-body experience at the hospital. It’s clear enough that teenage girls are the target demographic for a film like this, offering a balance between moments of nervous giggles, some teenage drama, and a “too cool” boyfriend to swoon over. This is certainly a very different character than Hit-Girl from the Kick-Ass movies and Chloe Grace Moretz provides levity and sentiment to a decidedly flawed film that drags on about 30 minutes too long.

You make some choices and some choices make you. Whether or not you allow yourself to be manipulated to tears by this movie is completely up to you, but I swear someone was cutting onions in that theater.

The Giver (2014)

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Speaking of teenage drama that takes itself more seriously than most, The Giver is also based on a book. The difference is that we are presented with something of a dystopian utopia where all war, famine, negativity, prejudice, inequality and emotion are stripped away from the citizens. Instead, they are given a community of sameness where jobs are assigned and widespread ignorance dominates. Only one person knows the real truth and he must now “give” that knowledge to the teen designated as the Receiver.

The premise of the film is a promising one and it’s one whose potential you can feel building as the tale progresses. Unfortunately, that potential is never fully realized. We are never given any real explanation why the memories can simply pass from Giver to Receiver by holding hands, for example, and the sloppy final act feels like the screenwriters couldn’t figure out how to wrap up this mess.

“When people are given the freedom to choose,” we are told by Meryl Streep’s Chief Elder character, “they choose wrong. Every time.” Maybe making this movie, after the idea lingered in limbo for so many years and got upstaged by The Hunger Games and even The Matrix, was the wrong choice.

Dim Sum Funeral (2008)

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To my knowledge, Dim Sum Funeral is not based on a book targeted at the teenage crowd. Instead, it approaches a topic that is rarely (if ever) covered in a mainstream film: very Americanized Asians struggling to figure out traditional Chinese funeral rites for their recently deceased mother.

It also doesn’t help that these adult siblings really don’t get along and most of them have strayed pretty far from “tradition.” One daughter is with a white guy, another daughter had a child with a black guy, the youngest (I’m assuming) daughter is with another woman, and the lone son is unfaithful to his wife. Much like The Giver and If I Stay, there is indeed promise in this premise, offering a voice to all of us “westernized” Asians. However, just like the other two films, Dim Sum Funeral doesn’t live up to this promise. The acting is stiff, the cinematography is amateur, and the plot twist ultimately lacks impact.

The minimal amount of dim sum in the movie was also disappointing.