When it comes to weepy, teenage melodramas, you’ve got to raise the stakes as high as humanly possible if you want to jerk tears from a cynical audience.
“If I Stay” goes all-in balancing the fate of a true-love relationship, burgeoning musical careers, and a heroine faced with the all-encompassing question of whether to live or die.
The resulting movie finds itself a couple of quality notches above a Lifetime Movie of the Week thanks mostly to the efforts of our lead, seasoned teen actress Chloe Grace Moretz.
Best known as foul-mouthed Hit-Girl from the “Kick-Ass” movies, Moretz shows off her range and manages to make this draggy, clichéd movie at least somewhat tolerable.
Moretz plays Mia Hall, a quiet, cello prodigy born to the most hipster-y-est hipster parents (played gamely by Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) Portland can offer up.
Since there has to be a boy to complicate matters, we are introduced to Adam (Jamie Blackley), who happens to be the lead singer in a local band and is super dreamy to boot. He takes an interest in Mia and before long the two become star-crossed lovers.
The ups and downs of their relationship are played out in flashback because in the present Mia is involved in a terrible car wreck that kills her family and leaves her in a coma.
Mia is still aware of everything going on around her as she walks around the hospital out-of-body style eavesdropping on various grieving friends and family members.
It is implied Mia can choose to stay in a world with an uncertain future with Adam and no parents, or simply head towards the bright light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s no mystery why “If I Stay” is an effective parable for its target audience as it plays off the anxieties of approaching adulthood and how the prospect of falling in love and starting a family means in many ways you are leaving your old family behind.
It’s all pretty heavy-handed, but Moretz smartly underplays all the crazy drama and makes her character’s conflict legitimately heart-wrenching.
The teenage romance winds up being the flattest part of the story as Moretz and Blackley’s chemistry is lukewarm at best and the problems that plague them, like her potential enrollment across the country in Julliard and his looming bar-band superstardom, aren’t all that relatable.
In fact, the whole bohemian social scene of this movie is kind of obnoxious and I’m sure it doesn’t bode well for my cool status when the character I enjoyed the most in this movie was Stacy Keach’s “Gramps.”
In the end, “If I Stay” does what it is supposed to do; it is just good enough to satisfy anyone who goes to the movies looking for a good cry and just interesting enough so that the rest of us aren’t crying out of boredom.
“If I Stay” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material.