Like this year's superior The Fault in Our Stars, IF I STAY is a Young Adult fiction adaptation featuring teens in love, medical emergencies and a charismatic young star in the lead role. Unfortunately, the similarities between the films don't extend to quality.
If I Stay stars Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) as Mia Hall, a talented, classically trained cellist who is in a coma after a devastating auto accident tears her family apart. She spends the majority of the film as a specter hovering over the action taking place around her near-lifeless body. She loves her boyfriend, the young singer-songwriter Adam (Jaime Blackley); just before the wreck, she had been weighing whether to study music at Juilliard or stay closer to home, which is to say, closer to him. Now her spirit faces an even bigger choice between her old life and whatever lies beyond it.
The film closely mirrors the book's plot. Flashbacks are our entryway into Mia's life, focusing on her home life, her relationship with her family, her schoolwork and, of course, the all-important teen romance angle. This device actually gets confusing a few times, as it takes a moment to decipher whether the action we're seeing is in the past or the present day.
Much of the blame for this confusion lies with the director. While R.J. Cutler is a decorated filmmaker, with the great documentaries The War Room and The September Issue under his belt, this is his wide-release feature film debut, and the transition between genres does not go smoothly. The decision to forgo expensive special effects, relying instead on costumes and camera angles to portray Mia's apparition, might have worked if this were a live performance on a stage, but here, it just looks like amateur hour.
Some shade should be thrown toward Moretz's acting as well. The young actress projects more sheer talent than many actors with twice the experience, but all we get here is forced emotion and empty gravitas. Has Moretz already reached a point in her career when she's more concerned with latching onto sure-thing genre roles than decent cinema fare? Let's face it, for every Let Me In, four films of the caliber of Dark Shadows smudge her resume.
While If I Stay isn't the worst YA film to hit screens this year (hello, The Giver), it is more evidence that the best thing for this trend might be to let it rest in peace for awhile.
Isaac Weeks writes about film for the INDY.