If you see just one weeper based on a YA best seller about teen love blossoming beneath the dark cloud of death this year, do yourself a favor: See the other one. If I Stay makes The Fault in Our Stars look like Citizen Kane.
That this adaptation of Gayle Forman's novel is director R.J. Cutler's narrative feature debut will come as a shock to no one who makes it through all 103 minutes (it seems much longer). Cutler gives the impression of having never watched a movie like this before, much less made one. With millions of dollars, market-proven source material and a cast that has decades of combined professional experience, you might expect the first-timer to get something right — if only by accident. Yet the end product reveals not so much as a trace of beginner's luck.
Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Mia, a Portland, Ore., high school student wrestling with the kinds of questions characters in multi-hanky melodramas are wont to face. Will her cello audition prove impressive enough to get her into Juilliard? Can she and her rocker boyfriend, Adam (Jamie Blackley), make things work, now that his band's getting hot and he's spending more time on the road? Should she wake up from her coma or go toward the light (there's literally a white light), now that everybody in her family has been killed in a horrific mountainside crash?
Believe it or not, the script by Shauna Cross gives pretty much equal weight to these issues. Worse, it's so reliant on corn and clichés it renders them equally trivial. The film retains the book's structure, ping-ponging between the present — with a disembodied Mia wandering a hospital's halls barefoot — and the past, presented as a sort of super-cut of her life's high points.
Unfortunately, this means we get to spend a lot of time with her family. And I'm just going to put it out there: Her parents may be the most annoying, gratingly saccharine characters ever portrayed on screen. Dad (Joshua Leonard) is a super-chipper dude who used to be the drummer in a punk band. Mom (Mireille Enos) is a super-chipper former hippie chick. They can't figure out how they had a kid who digs classical music, but, believe me, that doesn't keep them from being super-chipper about it for a second. They're like Disney characters on steroids.
It's clear why Mia's romance with Adam fails to offer her reason enough to choose life without a second, third, fourth and — frankly, I lost count — thought. The pair has minimal chemistry. When they're not arguing about whether a long-distance relationship could work if she's accepted at Juilliard, they're at show after show, and his band is terrible.
This is the kind of movie in which musicians constantly refer to their style as "punk" but sound about as hard core as Coldplay on estrogen. It's a film in which music figures prominently, so it's truly a shame nobody involved seems to have possessed much knowledge of the subject.
What can I say? If I were a 12-year-old girl, this might seem like the greatest thing since Robert Pattinson. Clearly, I'm not the target demographic for this sentiment-fest. There's such a thing as objective truth, however, and the fact is that If I Stay is derivative drivel. Tedious, glacially paced, overlong derivative drivel, at that.
Years from now, those same 12-year-olds are going to catch the movie on Lifetime and wonder how they sat through it without falling into a coma themselves. It certainly made me want to run toward the light. The red light of the exit sign.