'If I Stay': What the Critics Are Saying

If I Stay, out on Friday, follows Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz), a 17-year-old cello prodigy with dreams of Juilliard and a slightly older musician boyfriend named Adam (Jamie Blackley), who’s often on the road with his band. After a car accident leaves Mia, her parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) and younger brother (Jakob Davies) comatose, she must decide whether to return to life or accept death.

Directed by R.J. Cutler and adapted from Gayle Forman's hit young-adult novel, the New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer Pictures film is expected to top the weekend with an $18 million to $19 million debut, coming out ahead of this weekend's other newcomer, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

Read what top critics are saying about If I Stay:

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Jon Frosch warns that it's a "drippy teen love-and-death story" with "lame dialogue, heartstring-yanking music and tired visual approach," as the film’s makers "are clearly playing to a target audience — the same folks who lined up earlier this summer for the vastly superior The Fault in Our Stars — though they do so with dismayingly little effort to freshen up the formula." Cutler "relies on a stable of formal cliches," and with Shauna Cross' script, "Such lines may work on the page, but whispered ardently on the big screen accompanied by soft emo rock, they land with a thud — and the movie keeps them coming at an alarming pace."

Moretz is usually a "charismatic screen presence" in other films, but as Mia, "deploying a range of innocuous eye-rolls and pleading pouts," Moretz fails to find any jagged edges in her. Counterpart Blackley "is less self-conscious and conveys a few authentic swells of emotion, but Mia’s relationship with Adam has little electricity and near-zero substance; they’re supposed to have been together over a year, but their stiff interactions sound like the stuff of first dates." Stacy Keach "provides a bit of relief from all the oppressive earnestness in his brief appearance as Mia’s grandfather, evoking a depth of feeling otherwise missing here."

The New York Times' A. O. Scott notes that the calculated tearjerker "delivers each piece of bad news with carefully considered, maximally sadistic timing. The grief and sorrow are punctuated, and to some extent made bearable, by jabs of warmth and humor arising from family affection and adolescent romance," as Cutler "has a way of underplaying large feelings and amplifying subtle shifts of mood." Even more so, "the music is both the best and the corniest part of If I Stay, which makes excellent use of the classical cello repertoire, beyond just the Bach suite that has become one of the most overplayed pieces in modern cinema."

In praising Moretz' audition piece, which "she attacks with a fervor that takes even her by surprise," she notes, "it may be that Moretz captures Mia’s seriousness about her art — and her joy in it — so credibly because it reflects her own. At 17 and already a decade into her career, this remarkable actress is still exploring the far reaches of her range, and it’s always exciting to watch her test herself. Playing a more or less ordinary teenager facing more or less typical pressures is not easy, and to the extent that If I Stay is genuinely interesting as well as weep-worthy, it is largely because of her."

Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips calls it "artfully assaultive" and "better than average young adult material," and prefers it over Fault in Our Stars. Of Cutler's grit-less approach, "each scene, every aspect of Mia's romance, the one we see unfolding in flashbacks, is perfectly coiffed, with the cinematographer John de Borman pouring on the saturated colors and the appealing shadows." Though Moretz "has a way of hitting one note, hard, rather than working in chords, in her scenes with Blackley, who nearly makes the dreamy love interest a human being, some emotional truth emerges. Cutler is selling a certain kind of product with If I Stay, but he sells it honestly and well."

Time's Richard Corliss summarizes it as "a straightforward tearjerker that creates a union of two beautiful people so it can tear it apart, to pose the Clash’s eschatological question: Should I stay or should I go?" as it "rounds up all the YA cliches like cattle without applying the brand of its own personality." Still, "the reason to catch this death-flirting, borderline-deplorable weepie is totally Chloe. ... Moretz has matured into a gorgeous 17-year-old whose wide face and pensive intelligence reward a viewer’s rapt attention."

USA Today's Claudia Puig gives the film two-and-a-half stars out of four. "Cutler treats the romance and subsequent tragedy with sensitivity, and the story creatively imagines a comatose existence, painting it as a limbo between life and death." Praising the adult performances over the teen ones, she bames Moretz' "lackluster" performance on the latter half of the film's circumstances that have her "confined to listening and reacting, which is difficult to pull off for even the most experienced actor."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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