If I Stay (PG-13) ½

Review Date: August 22nd, 2014

Five minutes into If I Stay, I had already begun compiling a list of the audacious teen movie cliché lines spouted by stars Chloe Moretz and Jamie Blackley, and their supporting cast. Fifteen minutes in, I had already given up - it was too much for one man to bear. For this reason alone I left the movie impressed. Impressed at how much disingenuous angst from the cutting room floor of Dawson's Creek they managed to fit into a 106-minute movie.

It takes quite a toll on you to look past these maudlin iambs, and those braving the journey will find few rewards beneath the surface of If I Stay. Moretz's character Mia, an overachieving cellist on the precipice of a breakup with Adam (Blackley) and wrestling with the decision to move across the country to study at Juilliard, suffers a monstrous car accident and washes back over the past year of her life - discovering her passions, her self-esteem, and her love for the obnoxious indie rock boy a grade above - in the form of flashbacks. While a couple of Mia's more lighthearted memories manage to muster up some genuine spirit, this breed is significantly outnumbered by the drama. The sort of stuff we've all seen before, with the piercing reminder courtesy of the ham-fisted dialogue that it's the sort of stuff we've all seen before.

Despite the general capability of Moretz, who helps to turn what could be another spineless YA heroine into a character with relative biological agency, latching onto Mia will be a difficult task. Surrounding her, we have a nearly insufferable Adam - sure, being in a band is a tried and true way to impress a desired mate, but usually one or two other redeeming personality traits are required to actually make a relationship work. As Mia's parents, Miereille Enos and Joshua Leonard alternate scenes of enjoyable goofiness and cloying idiocy, with Enos at least coming out favorable thanks largely to her mastering of motherly affection.

But the story surrounding these characters is so rumpled and misguided, itself unsure of what to prioritize and who to root for and what constitutes personal victory, that the heart of the movie feels as withered and phony as its veritable tapestry of teen drama quotables. Worse, in fact, when it reaches its audacious conclusion: one that, without spoiling anything, feels not only ineffective but earnestly harmful in its message and the stolen authority with which it proclaims it. In honesty, the way to walk away from If I Stay with anything gained is if you actually manage to complete its cliché roundup. And to anyone who does I offer my humblest admiration.


Follow @Michael Arbeiter