Don’t look now, but “teen weepie” is becoming a thing. Hot on the heels of June’s The Fault in Our Stars comes If I Stay, with Chloë Grace Moretz as a high-schooler knocked into a coma by a car accident that kills her mom and dad. Its sole purpose, it seems, is to make the young adult target audience bawl buckets. There’s a love story here, sure, and some nice music along the way (the alt-emo soundtrack features Beck and Odessa, among others), but in the end, this is a hankie-grabbing sobfest. And a fairly effective one.
Based on Gayle Forman’s 2009 novel, If I Stay finds Mia (Moretz) torn between her burgeoning life as a gifted cellist auditioning for Juilliard and her current life as a girlfriend to garage band guitarist Adam (James Blackley). Smack in the middle of it all comes the crash, and while her mortal coil lies unconscious in a hospital bed, her otherworldly self wanders the halls, ghost-like, as she wrestles with the decision of whether she should let herself go “into the light” or fight to stay alive.
Of course, anyone with half a brain can see where this thing is going, and if you’d even like to hazard a guess at what the film’s last shot will be, you’d be right. But that doesn’t mean the ride along the way isn’t worth taking.
Moretz and Blackley make an adorable couple, and their chemistry is solid throughout. They’re not quite the Lloyd Dobler and Diane Court of the Millennial generation, but they’re fairly close. Moretz, in fact, is now completely forgiven for her association with the wretched Kick Ass 2; her performance here is top-notch and stands as proof that she actually has some staying power in this business—a business that tends to forget child stars as soon as their prepubescent cuteness wears off.
The problem here is more with the third-rate screenplay by Shauna Cross (What to Expect When You’re Expecting). Coming off as more of an Afterschool Special by way of The CW, If I Stay is peppered with silly, trite lines such as the good ol’, “When I’m with Adam, I feel like I’m flying”. Gah. The fact that Moretz can deliver that without rolling her eyes herself is just this side of a miracle. But for every moment when Adam oh-so-cloyingly calls Mia by her last name (Gah, again), there are bright spots, too, including a room décor equivalent to Say Anything…’s boombox scene.
First-time feature director R.J. Cutler, who has plied his trade in TV and film documentaries to this point, lets the film’s pace drag a little more than it needs to, and the ending (save a brilliant scene with Stacy Keach as Mia’s grandpa) is just a wee tad heavy-handed, but overall there’s no denying that If I Stay solidly does what it sets out to do.
Bring the Kleenex, just leave behind the overly high expectations.