In New Line Cinema’s romantic drama “If I Stay,” music is the connective tissue that threads the characters’ world together. It is also “a metaphor for our passions in life,” states director R.J. Cutler.
“If I Stay” opens with a Cello Sonata by Beethoven and riffs through an array of music including Zoltan Kodaly, Bach, Buzzcocks, Beck, Sonic Youth, Blondie, Iggy Pop, and The Dandy Warhols, to name a few.
“Music is an undeniably critical element in and of itself in this film and that created a wonderful opportunity for me,” says Cutler. “Telling stories about people who play music and who sing allows you to enhance the narrative in many different ways. You’re dealing with the content of the lyrics, the nature of the performance, and the tone of the actual scene itself. It’s really exciting to get things that function on all of those levels when you find exactly the right piece of music and put it together in exactly the right way.”
Cutler set the musical tone early, giving MP3 players to his cast loaded with playlists that their characters would be listening to, since “they are defined by the music they love,” he explains.
Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays the central character, the cellist Mia, received one filled with music from the classical genre, as well as contemporary music that incorporated classical instruments, like Nirvana’s “Unplugged.” Cutler also included a lot of Mia’s parents, Kat and Denny’s favorite music, which Mia grew up on: The Clash, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, as well as more contemporary Pacific Northwest-based music that would likely be in the world around her.
The playlist for Jamie Blackley who plays the guitarist and rocker, Adam, overlapped Moretz’s, but with less classical and more of a foundation in Punk and Grunge.
Although Blackley actually plays guitar and sings, he brushed up with lessons from Simon Tong, who played in the band Gorillaz.
The first time Blackley got to perform the music was a pivotal scene which takes place at a Labor Day party at Mia’s house. The day Mia remembers in her retrospective state as her favorite day was also one of Blackley’s favorite scenes. Adam and his band mates play guitar with Mia’s father and his musician friends gathered around a bonfire in Mia’s backyard. Blackley recalls, “That was really fun to film because we had worked so hard on the music.”
Adam brings out Mia’s cello and pulls her into the impromptu jam and, for the first time, she and Adam are finally playing music together, melding her classical music with his.
“It’s very symbolic. It’s like they are intertwining all the aspects of their lives,” says Moretz.
Author Gayle Forman, whose novel was the basis of the film, relates, “Being able to actually viscerally experience watching Mia play the cello or seeing Adam and Mia actually jam together was a million times better than it could ever be in the book or in my head. I think the music is really going to resonate with viewers.”
The songs are touchstones in Mia’s memories as she studies her past in the in-between world and reflects on the complex twists and turns in her relationship with Adam.
“It’s really beautiful how R.J. infused music into every aspect of making this movie,” Moretz notes, “You hear their love story; it’s completely encompassed in the songs.”
Cutler reflects, “These two people who are deeply in love with each other, and really connected could be torn apart for no other reason than that they are fully pursuing who they are.
“Life is messy. There isn’t just one path. It’s all the joy that comes from the surprises that it has in store for you and all the tragedy that comes from those surprises. What Mia learns on her journey with Adam is invaluable and helps her make her ultimate choice.”
Opening across the Philippines on September 3, 2014, “If I Stay” is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Entertainment Company.