Even when thrown from the family SUV following the fateful collision that will clarify her reason for living, Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) is red-carpet ready: Shot with soft focus, fully made up, dressed in a creamy off-white theme and framed by studio snow, she might be comatose but she’s ready to rock. Nobody who looks this good could be beat by anything so ordinary as death.
Based on the bestselling young-adult novel by Gayle Forman, If I Stay is a story of one young woman’s triumph over trauma, told as a series of flashbacks triggered by those possibly fatal, potentially final hours when her out-of-body incarnation (unheard and unseen by anyone) comes to realize the meaning of life and struggles to jolt her corporeal self into inspired responsiveness.
The prodigiously gifted cello-playing offspring of Portland, Ore., punk rockers – Dad (Joshua Leonard) once drummed for an outfit called the Nasty Bruises and Mom (Mireille Enos) thinks Debbie Harry is womanhood incarnate – Mia has fallen for a super-cute local high-school rock star (Jamie Blackley) who impresses Dad with his knowledge of punk arcana but insists Mia follow her dream: to go to Juilliard and be the Debbie Harry of cello.
There is little doubt throughout If I Stay that Mia will do the right thing, as doing the right thing has more or less been her credo since she first heard Schubert and set her sights on following that middlebrow, NPR-approved dream. Indeed, everyone but her seems to know what an entire movie has been engineered to reinforce: that answering the call of the heart is the only true response, that life is only worth living if you grab it by the bow and pull.
If I Stay is true to principle in one significant regard: It makes no concessions to anyone outside its teenage female cohort. If you see anything untoward in its endorsement of glamour as the last and best defence, or if you make note of the fact that Moretz’s cello-playing has been made possible only via the generous intervention of CGI, this movie probably isn’t for you.