MOVIE REVIEW: Young love lives or dies with one decision in 'If I Stay'

 

Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley, Joshua Leonard, Stacy Keach; directed by R.J. Cutler; 103 minutes; PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material

Chloe Grace Moretz takes on her first real star-vehicle romance in "If I Stay," an adaptation of Gayle Forman's novel. Moretz is Mia, a Portland, Ore., high school cello prodigy who, 12 minutes into the movie, is in a car crash. Her spirit awakens in the crimson snow to see her broken body hauled off in an ambulance.

As the able doctors operate on her, somebody says, "If she wants to live, she'd better start fighting."

In a series of flashbacks, we travel to her meeting Adam (Jamie Blackley), the hunky upperclassman alt rocker who is drawn to her good looks and her utter immersion in her instrument. In other episodes, we fall in with her still-hip parents. Dad (Joshua Leonard) used to be a punk drummer and mom (Mireille Enos) was a groupie/riot grrrl. Then they had their second child (Jakob Davies) and gave that up for straight jobs.

"Sometimes you make choices in life," is Mom's wise counsel, "and sometimes choices make you."

Director R.J. Cutler, a veteran TV producer/director ("Nashville"), keeps the camera in tight on Moretz, and the romance of this sinks or swims on her performance. Even an actress as skilled as Moretz ("Let Me In," "Carrie") sometimes seems lost in the boyfriend/girlfriend walking and hugging moments. But the real question is does she stay or does she let go?

In the end, what matters with any weeper is, "Does it earn tears?"

Manipulated we may be, yanked through contrived melodrama that piles grief upon grief. But "If I Stay" will make you wish you'd brought a hanky. You know, for your date. Not that you'd ever fall for this.

Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers

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