“Sometimes you make choices in life, and sometimes choices make you.” So says an actual character in “If I Stay,” which is a real movie. It’s the kind of aphorism that sounds deep until you think about it, and “If I Stay,” which is based on a novel for teenage girls (I’m sorry, “young adults”), is likewise the kind of movie whose profundity evaporates as soon as two or three neurons are fired in its direction.
Set in hip Portland but filmed in cheap Canada, this is the story of Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz), a shy teenage cellist whose parents (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos) were rockers and rollers before they settled down to become the coolest parents in Cooltown. Mia has a little brother too, but whatever. About 13 minutes into the film, the family is in a car accident that leaves Mia in a coma and the other three dead or dying. Now having an out-of-body experience and wandering the hospital ghostily, Mia reflects on her life thus far and debates whether to fight for survival or go toward the light.
The bulk of the film, then, is flashbacks to Mia’s recent past, particularly emphasizing her storybook romance with Adam (Jamie Blackley), the dreamiest boy in school, who sought her out and told her she’s beautiful and is basically a perfect boyfriend fond of making grand romantic gestures. (There’s a brief sequence of turmoil based on petty, dumb teenage jealousies, but it’s resolved quickly.) His rock band is rising fast, while her cello skills might get her into Juilliard. Everything’s looking up! Until the car accident.
The problem with structuring the story this way is that it presumes our interest in Mia’s story before it tells us anything about it. Then, as her pre-coma life is laid out for us, it reveals … not much of a story anyway. Good parents, nice life, doting boyfriend, bright future, no real conflict. And I kept waiting to find out what her dilemma was. She has love and a potential life of happiness ahead of her — why wouldn’t she want to live if she could? Why would she want to die? Because her family is gone? Ehh. The movie (directed by R.J. Cutler) never makes a compelling case for that line of thinking. Instead, it spins its wheels with bland melodrama, punctuated by scenes of Adam weeping over Mia’s comatose body while Mia’s spirit looks on helplessly. You’ll never guess what she decides!!!!!!!!!!
C (; )