Based on Gayle Forman’s bestselling novel, If I Stay centres on a talented teenager in limbo between life and death, who must choose between waking from her coma or skipping merrily towards the light.
Screenwriter Shauna Cross sidesteps a serious discussion of mortality by distilling the teenager’s ruminations into a series of flashbacks and montages of an enviably carefree childhood and a fairy-tale school romance.
Add into the overwrought mix the heroine’s natural aptitude for the cello and her impending audition for the world renowned Juilliard School for Performing Arts in New York City, and it seems churlish, not to mention ungrateful, for her to consider anything but a return to terra firma.
The musical prodigy is Mia Hall (Chloe Grace Moretz), who has never felt like she fits in with her parents Denny (Joshua Leonard) and Kat (Mireille Enos) or little brother Teddy (Jakob Davies).
‘I’ve always felt like this Martian in my family,’ Mia tells Adam (Jamie Blackley), her school’s resident dreamboat, who plays guitar in the band Willamette Stone and is destined for great things, including falling for Mia.
Denny and Kat are soon packing the children into the car for an ill-fated drive down snow-laden roads.
Mia wakes from a head-on collision and watches paramedics rush her lifeless body into an ambulance.
At the hospital, where her grandparents (Stacy Keach, Gabrielle Rose) solemnly await news, Mia observes from a distance as medical staff attempt to save her life on the operating table.
If I Stay shamelessly tugs heartstrings and Moretz and Blackley are an attractive pairing and spark pleasing screen chemistry that sustains our interest through some mawkish and emotionally manipulative moments. The fractured chronology is unavoidable but hampers dramatic momentum, reducing a middle section laden with reminiscence and regret to a crawl.
A hoary and contrived finale is sign-posted well in advance so teenagers have plenty of time to arm themselves with enough tissues to contain their sobs and sniffles.