If I Stay, a big-screen adaptation of a 2009 young-adult novel by Gayle Forman, proves something you may already know. The talented Chloe Grace Moretz can carry a movie, hardly a surprise after Moretz scored a big-screen breakthrough playing Hit-Girl in 2010’s Kick-Ass . Moretz also held her own in 2010’s Let Me In, and occupied the center of an unfortunate 2013 Carrie remake.
Moretz, who’s a mere 17, doesn’t look as if she’s quite grown into adulthood yet, but you can see her beginning to blossom.
PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
For 27 years, Robert Denerstein was the film critic at The Rocky Mountain News. Read more of Robert's reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.
There’s no faulting Moretz’s performance in If I Stay, but the movie qualifies as a near-perfect example of a drama that provokes neither scorn nor admiration, a true middle-of-the-road effort.
Moretz plays Mia, an Oregon teen-ager and budding cellist who falls for Adam, a slightly older rock musician (Jamie Blackley).
If you’ve seen the movie’s trailer you already know the story’s gist. A terrible automobile accident involving Mia and her family sets the story in motion and determines its structure.
While languishing in a coma after an extensive surgery, Mia has an out-of-body experience. Her non-corporeal self wanders around the hospital checking in on her father (Joshua Leonard) and her younger brother (Jakob Davies), as well as on relatives and friends who’ve gathered to keep watch.
Generating more predictability than excitement, flashbacks arrive, most focusing on Mia’s developing relationship with Blackley’s Adam. We also get a couple of scenes with Mia’s mother (Mireille Enos); she encourages Mia to pursue her relationship with Adam.
At first blush, Mia and Adam seem mismatched. She’s demure and devoted to classical music. He’s a rocker and chick magnet.
Unfortunately, the unfolding romance seems too serious for a girl who has yet to graduate from high school, undermining its power as a central story element for anyone past the age of 30.
Two questions develop: Will Mia pursue her cello dreams at Juilliard or will she hang back to maintain her relationship with Adam? The second question, of course, centers on whether Mia will pull out of her coma, whether — in the movie’s argot — she’ll choose life?
If I Stay seems intended by director R.J. Cutler as a tearjerker with serious overtones, a story designed to allow young adults to think about death while swooning over a romance.
Fair enough, but the movie comes off as too predictable to feel truly weighty and too weighty totally to dismiss. In all, this late-summer movie manages to cauterize highly dramatic events and, in the process, drain them of some of their much-needed emotion.