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A stellar supporting cast can’t save ‘If I Stay’ from drowning in teen-love mediocrity

September 8, 2014

Ever wonder how to stretch a 30-minute episode’s worth of far-fetched, soap opera-style, coma induced, love affairs into an hour-and-a-half high-profile theatrical release? I haven’t either. Apparently, though, director R.J. Cutler thought it would be a fantastic idea. As a result we get If I Stay, the latest in top-of-the-line teenagee love snoozefests.

Right out of the gate, you know you’re in for a grind. Mia Hall (the atrocious Chloe Grace Moretz) is gazing with mixed emotions at a photo of her boyfriend (or is it ex-boyfriend?) and his bandmates onstage playing a set. See, they’re on the ice because Hall is planning on leaving him to take a music scholarship at Julliard as he attempts to become a successful Alt-Rock musician. Meanwhile, the other three members of her family buzzing around her in the kitchen somehow manage to drop every Rock cliché in a matter of minutes. “Here, son, but no listening to anything after ’78!” Denny Hall (Joshua Leonard) quips to his eight-year-old, Iggy and the Stooges-loving son Jakob Davies (who, for what it’s worth, nails his admittedly small part) as he hands him a pair of oversized headphones. Oh God.

As the family takes a drive down an icy road, they’re suddenly involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle. And it’s here the lunacy truly begins. As the emergency responders lift her near-lifeless body into an ambulance, Mia also finds herself roaming around the scene’s icy landscape having perhaps the least believable “meltdown” I’ve ever seen onscreen. What? Apparently her… spirit, I guess? can walk around and try in vain to talk to those in the people around her as the life she knew falls apart.

But don’t forget: we’ve got to stretch this thing out. So from here on, with every minute of plot development we get in the present, we’re treated to five in the past via many, many flashbacks that finally give us some much needed backstory to the characters. Unfortunately, no matter what they try, they just can’t seem to get you to care about them.

Don’t miss a second of the action, because it can be difficult to keep up with what’s happening live and what’s in the past. There are more flashbacks here than you’d see on a bad episode of Friday Night Smackdown with some performances (particularly from Moretz) so bad they could make even Brock Lesnar cringe. While Moretz can sort of hold her own when she’s with her at-least-he’s-somewhat-believable boyfriend Adam Wilde (Jamie Blackley), brace yourself when she finds herself on her own without anyone else to lean on. While she can zip around the halls of the hospital Hell she’s locked in, she finds herself having trouble delivering when it counts the most.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few ingredients to keep the film from completely bombing. If you look around, there’s a decent cast here. Blackley’s annoying-yet-lovable performance could give him a platform for better projects and Stacy Keach absolutely smokes the competition as Mia’s grandfather. But for every great monologue from Keach or surprisingly catchy Alt-Rock nuggets from Blackley’s band, you get an atrocious scene featuring Moretz talking to herself as her friends and what’s left of her family cry over her body in her hospital bed. Add in the fact that you know exactly how this story will end from the title screen, and there just isn’t enough going on here to save this movie from being anything more than the catch of the day at the Walmart bargain bin next year. Liana Liberato’s character says it best in the opening minutes of the movie, “All right we get it, you’re in love. Go away.” Amen, Sister.

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