Our Protagonist Is a Passenger of Clichés in 'If I Stay'

This film urges you to believe that the protagonist is as special as anyone at the center of a YA saga, which is to say, so very special.

If I Stay

Director: R.J. Cutler
Cast: Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Stacy Keach
Rated: PG-13
Studio: New Line Cinema, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Pictures
Year: 2014
US date: 2014-08-22 (General release)
"You smell of memory

Felt-tipped electric child."

-- Sonic Youth, "Karen Revisited"

"I am the passenger." Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz) can withstand only a few beats of Iggy Pop's tune while she is, indeed, a passenger in her parents' minivan. As they've promised that she can select the music in order to get her to ride with them, she changes her little brother's choice to Beethoven. "I always wondered," Mia muses in voiceover, as you see her face in the passenger's window, "if mom and dad were disappointed that I didn't turn out like them."

Yes, Mia sounds like many high schoolers here, though If I Stay urges you to believe she's as special as anyone at the center of a YA saga, which is to say, so very special. In this iteration -- R.J. Cutler's movie draws from Gayle Forman's source novel -- the special girl is a cellist, gifted of course, but also feeling out of place, as she puts it, because her dad (Joshua Leonard) was a rock drummer and her mom (Mireille Enos) a riot grrl, at least until they gave up their music to become Good Parents (dad is now an English teacher, that is, the very embodiment of selflessness).

They've always encouraged her interest in the cello ("I love the order," she says, "It's like my heart is beating with the cello"), at times making sacrifices beyond her understanding. "Cellos are crazy expensive," she says, but somehow dad found a way to buy her one. Still, she lacks the confidence that might have made this movie less formulaic.

That doesn't mean she doesn't pursue her interest, or make it visible, even in the harrowing hallways of high school. Here she's spotted by beautiful young Adam (Jamie Blackley), who informs her that he's attracted by her passion. It might or might not help that he's a rock guitarist and singer with his own band, Willamette Stone: they can talk music, go vinyl-record shopping, have blurry sex to a cover of "Halo", and ride his skateboard together, but still, they're soooo different.

Where her support system pops up repeatedly, including an adorable little brother (Jakob Davies) and a best girlfriend (Liana Liberato), he only refers to his family in the past tense; where he's outgoing (despite whatever background he's not discussing) and prone to lyrics that leave no doubt about his feelings ("I want what you have!"), she's painfully shy (despite talking lots about how she feels), and the camera underlines how alienated she feels at his shows: she stands in the back of the room, she scowls when he stands close to his female bandmate on stage or signs girl fans' chests.

How oh how will they ever make it? When Mia frets, Adam encourages. If she's hesitant, he's self-assured. While Kim suggests he's popular in school (you don't see this, so you take her word for it), he's instantly determined to date this lovely loner (it's actually unclear how much time they might know each other before he swoops in, Edward Cullenish, to ask her out). And he must be right about them being together, she (or you) might reason, because, well, because they're in a movie where that needs to be true.

Even when the movie sets up a series of bumps in their road -- he's on the road with the band, she's thinking about going to Juilliard -- these appear so corny, predictable, and overcome-able that you're hard-pressed to worry. Except... well… this one really big bump.

This is the one that comes up within the movie's first few minutes and sets up the rest of its structure, as a lot of flashbacks. That big bump is revealed in the title, and telegraphed in the line that precedes it, namely, "Isn't it amazing how life is something and then, in an instant, it becomes something else?" Yes, it is amazing.

Boom comes the car crash, occurring during that very scene where Mia's listening to Beethoven. The problem here (immediately, and again, predictably) is the movie's impulse to make her limbo state visible. Not only does she stand on the road and watch herself loaded onto a gurney and into an ambulance by the flipped-over car, but she goes on to watch herself in surgery (her view featuring bloody doctors' hands trying to fix her spleen and other organs) and hooked up to machines while she's in a coma. During these lengthy, presumably boring hours (days?), she not only flashes back, but also scampers from room in the hospital, seeking glimpses of her family members.

Again, the literalization is distracting and, too frequently, nonsensical: though Mia is a spirit of some sort, unseen by anyone else, still, her access to informative conversations is conveniently limited, expanding and reducing plot time as needed. This time is sometimes shaped by visual banalities -- white light at the end of the hospital hallway, slow motion efforts by hospital staff, meaningful ballads, sung meaningfully -- and more often by heartfelt declarations of support for Mia, uttered by the black nurse (Aisha Hinds) who tells her it's up to her whether she lives or dies and the great grandpa (Stacy Keach) who tells her it's okay if she dies, and sometimes not voiced at all, but implied by the revolving unnamed classmates and musicians who stand by her bedside in a dissolvey montage so she sees that "so many people" love her.

Of course, the support she most seeks is that coming from Adam, with whom she's recently had another break-up fight, and so you have to wait a bit for that to emerge, which only means more expanding of story time, if not precisely tension.

For all its earnest delivery to romantic expectations, what remains irksome in If I Stay is how little agency it grants Mia, even as she appears to be allowed the decision whether to stay or go. And so she comes to seem a passenger after all, riding along with her movie's many other clichés.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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