Coming on the heels of “The Fault in Our Stars,” it’s only natural to draw comparisons between “If I Stay” and the year’s other teen-oriented tearjerker.
Sadly, the juxtaposition doesn’t do any favors for “If I Stay,” an adaptation of Gayle Forman’s YA novel that fails to match both the emotional resonance and the romance of its predecessor.
In “Stay,” Chloe Grace Moretz is Mia Hall, a slightly awkward teenager just trying to get by and get into Juilliard, where she will continue her cello training.
After a catastrophic snow day outing with her brother and parents – played rather broadly by Mireille Enos (“The Killing”) and Joshua Leonard – Moretz finds herself existing outside of her body in a state of limbo.
Unfortunately, instead of focusing on the journey of a young woman trying to process what has happened to herself and her family, most of the movie exists in flashbacks within her mind.
In these momentum-killing blasts from the past, Mia remembers the advice of her parents, her love of the cello and – seemingly of most importance – the tumultuous relationship with her rocker boyfriend, Adam (Jamie Blackley).
And in a movie where the entire dramatic thread is whether the lead will live or die, the biggest sign of failure is that for large chunks of the film, it’s easy to forget that Mia’s life is actually on the line.
Teens making statements like “Why do I get the feeling that you’re about to mess up my entire life?” don’t help. Even without reading the book, you’ll be able to tell which lines were directly cribbed from the source material.
Like an old-school horror movie, “If I Stay” at least sets itself apart from the Hollywood mandate of subtlety-free films by ignoring the “how” of her state of limbo altogether.
And sure, you can nitpick about whether in her ghost-like state, she can walk through walls or open doors, but the best thing film has going for it is its insistence that her emotional journey is the only thing that matters.
All of that hinges on Moretz, a bona fide star at just 17 years old has more than proven that she can hold her own in films like “Hugo” and “Let Me In.”
So let’s call “If I Stay” a mulligan, because people not remember it in five years’ time, we have faith they won’t forget this promising young actress anytime soon.