Grim teen drama ‘If I Stay’ leaves little in doubt

  • Wed Aug 20th, 2014 2:13pm
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

Young couples in movies are customarily given obstacles to overcome, but “If I Stay” seems unnecessarily cruel in its dramatic contrivances. Most of the film unfolds in the flashbacks that follow a terrible car accident; all the members of a family have been seriously injured, and our narrator, Mia (Chloë Grace Moretz), is in a coma.

She’s also walking around the hospital as a sort of astral-projection, looking down at her unconscious self and listening to everybody else talking about her. Mia’s a promising cellist, with a shot at attending Julliard after she graduates from her Portland high school.

The only problem with Julliard is that it would take her away from her boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley), the lead singer of a neo-punk band, who plans to keep gigging around Oregon. Because who would want to take a punk band to New York City?

The movie puts a great deal of dramatic weight on this Julliard decision, perhaps because somebody realized that despite the gravity of the car accident hanging over everything, the script doesn’t actually have much in the way of suspense for the flashbacks.

Mia’s got the world’s coolest parents, who can advise their classical-music-minded daughter about whether she should go to a Halloween party as Debbie Harry or Patti Smith. (They’re warmly played by Mirielle Enos, of “The Killing,” and Joshua Leonard, from “Humpday.”)

Mia and Adam get along great, and he has few flaws as musician or movie dream-catch. Even Mia’s brother isn’t as bratty as little brothers are expected to be. Director R.J. Cutler gets a few pleasantly quirky line readings out of his cast, although there’s not much Moretz (the ineffable Hit-Girl from the “Kick-Ass” movies) or Blackley can do with their plywood roles.

Aside from the movie’s structure, the film is most notable for its grimness. Based on a novel by Gayle Forman and scripted by “Whip It” scribe Shauna Cross, “If I Stay” is blunt about mortality when it comes to the accident’s toll. That makes it a tough spin as a summer movie, which could explain why some major revelations about death are given away in the trailer.

These days trailers are like “trigger warnings” to prepare unsuspecting audiences — everybody needs to know the worst beforehand, lest the experience of actually watching a movie be too vivid. This means only the very ending is really in doubt. The finish is well executed, but you can probably guess it from here.

“If I Stay” (2 stars)

While in a coma, a teen (Chloe Grace Moretz) ponders her life and her future — a grim set-up for this adaptation of Gayle Forman’s Young Adult novel. Not badly done, but the young characters are plywood and their situation doesn’t have much suspense.

Rating: PG-13, for language, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Meridian, Oak Tree, Varsity, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.