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Teen film is perfectly weepy and melodramatic

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Chloe Grace Moretz, left, and Jamie Blackley, cast members in "If I Stay," pose together at the premiere of the film at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, in Los Angeles.
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Manipulative, contrived, melodramatic — all labels we slap on that most perfectly titled movie genre, "the weeper." All fit "If I Stay" like original packaging. Teenage girls and the boys who want to date them need to discover the pleasures of a well-executed teen weeper for themselves, and this film fills the bill.

Chloe Grace Moretz takes on her first real star-vehicle romance in this 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." That’s what the movie is about, Mia’s spirit, dashing barefoot through the halls of the hospital, checking on the rest of her injured family and reliving, through flashbacks, the life she might be leaving behind.

We travel back 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.

Adam is Mia’s first love, but she could get into Juilliard and he could be the one who got away.

Or she could never come out of this coma she’s in.

‘IF I STAY’
Rated: PG
* *  1/2
Opens Friday

Moretz’s cello playing is impressive (occasionally sped up to reach the proper tempo), her girl-in-love moments awkward, in a kind of studious way. Sometimes her body language doesn’t match the tone of her voice or the pitch of the scene. But even that can be explained away as "natural" for a kid only used to hugging a cello.

Wonderful supporting players give the movie its third act heart. Stacy Keach, playing the grandfather, has a couple of great scenes with Mia. Aisha Hinds is a compassionate nurse who whispers in the comatose teen’s ear.

And Enos, of TV’s "The Killing," is that wise, sweet and hip mom who seems to exist only in the movies.

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.

Review by Roger Moore, McClatchy Newspapers

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