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Review: The semi-good times don't last in the mega-goopy YA movie 'If I Stay'

Despite the occasional blast of Iggy Pop and The Buzzcocks, the YA move "If I Stay" —with a near-dead Chloe Grace Moretz —soon turns maudlin.

Chloe Grace Moretz might be dead in the YA weepie "If I Stay." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures Chloe Grace Moretz might be dead in the YA weepie "If I Stay."
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

'If I Stay'
Director: R.J. Cutler
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

It takes awhile to realize there’s no actual classically defined drama in “If I Stay,” the latest YA movie adaptation — and that’s with two stories happening simultaneously. Gayle Forman’s multi-hankie bestseller tells of Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz), a teenage cellist who, along with her parents and younger brother, suffers a cataclysmic car crash that leaves her in a coma. It also leaves her with an out-of-body experience, bumbling about the crash scene and soon the ICU as a quasi-ghost fitted with a permanent expression of freaked-out exasperation. (She takes longer than it honestly should to realize people can’t see or hear her.)

As she skulks about the hospital, the film keeps interrupting her with large, ravenous dips into her past. She’s the daughter of middle age punker parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard), the latter who quit his band, sold his drum set and bought her a cello when he realized she was a prodigy. Much, much more importantly, she was crazy in love with Adam (Jamie Blackley), a greasy-haired rocker who sticks with her even as his band takes off and groupies swarm. Only problem: Mia scored an audition to far-off Juilliard and didn’t know how to break it to him, thus fracturing the relationship.

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Chloe Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley do a lot of cuddlin' in "If I Stay." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures Chloe Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley do a lot of cuddlin' in "If I Stay."
Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

That is it for plot in “If I Stay,” though for awhile it at least seems bigger. It wholly buys into the way teenage love can be all-consuming, and finds that period when life and career — especially for two musicians on the cusp of bigger success — fight for space with whoever you're hung up on. “If I Stay” plays things mostly chaste, but it doesn’t shy entirely away from its PG-13 rating. And the cool, tatted-up parents do help, actually: Not only are Enos and Leonard adorable, but their presence means the fragile sheen of this YA movie is occasionally punctured by Iggy Pop and The Buzzcocks (plus Beethoven).

But like Mia and Adam’s relationship, the good times can only last so long, and it eventually becomes apparent that there’s simply not much going on — especially once things start getting seriously goopy. The relationship business starts to seem routine rather than universal. (Moretz’s sincere but one-note performance doesn’t help. She’s a terrific actress, but given the hip guy-woos-wallflower plot, she simply seems like Carrie without any hope of a looming body count.)

Meanwhile, the present day stuff means to turn on whether Ghost Mia will choose to live or walk into some cheesy light. But it’s not much of a choice, especially given the prominence of Adam over even her family. And either way it goes will only lead to eye-rolling: If she dies, it will only be for a cheap emotional kick, but if she lives, it will simply reiterate that love indeed conquers all. But by then it’s laid the maudlin on so thick that it didn’t stand a chance anyway.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 
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