Hopefully, you’re consulting something other than contemporary cinema when you look at the big questions, such as, “What’s the point of life?” Indeed, “If I Stay” can’t answer queries like this — and doesn’t try — but it maintains its own charms nonetheless.
If you go
“If I Stay,” rated PG-13
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 106 minutes
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard.
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
Portland, Oregon, teenager Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) has had one singular love for much of her life: the cello. Her mastery of the instrument is one that her parents (Mireille Enos, Joshua Leonard) always have encouraged, even if the music she plays isn’t exactly their style.
The hunk of wood may have competition for Mia’s affections when she meets aspiring rock star Adam (Jamie Blackley), an older guy she can’t help falling for, despite his running with a different crowd.
Their courtship hits a snag when the two of them begin envisioning separate things for their respective futures, but for Mia, life takes an unexpected turn when a family car ride on an icy road results in an accident that leaves her in a coma.
Her physical body, that is, with her spirit stuck in a limbo-like state within the hospital where doctors are struggling to save her.
Unable to revive herself or reach out to anyone, Mia teeters between life and the afterlife, and learning the fate of everyone she cares about keeps her wondering if it’s worth it to wake up at all.
Moretz never once goes off-key as the promising prodigy, whether it’s when Mia is going through the troubles of an everyday teen existence or the out-of-body experience that’s putting her through the wringer. One day, you’re praying to get into Juilliard, the next you’re standing over yourself wondering if you’ll be a vegetable.
After all, who hasn’t had both those things happen?
When your favorite musician is Beethoven and your preferred member of the “Peanuts” gang is Schroeder, it’s going to cause some tension with your folks when they’re a domesticated riot grrrl and a faded punk rocker, but props go to Enos and Leonard as the most supportive pair of parents you could find for a daughter they don’t totally understand.
Of course, the downside of that is in the film world, the better father or mother you are, the more likely it is you’re going to get killed off horribly to create dramatic tension.
Blackley is fine as Mia’s boyfriend, who also loves her unconditionally even when they’re not on the same page of sheet music, or even in the same genre, but it’s Stacy Keach who has the most wonderful and understated moments as Mia’s grandpa, pulling for her while in the intensive care unit.
A lot of movies about the musically inclined skew their subjects in a way that any ambitions look so single-minded that they become unrelatable, and while Mia does come close to appearing like someone who’s only happy when she’s got a bow in one hand and the strings at her fingertips, she still is presented as a well-rounded person.
It is a little troubling that her romance with Adam is constructed as being so weighted that he’s often the only thing she can think about, but never let it be said that a teen won’t make their first love their whole world. The full romance of the two unfolds slowly around Mia’s hospitalization, a fragmented framing structure that pays off better than a linear format would, providing balance between the happy times, the depressing ones and the angst that never goes away during any of it.
We can all get that, and a segue from a passionate kiss to a medical intubation is just one example of how the plot flows as easily as a concerto.
It’s Mia’s time in the metaphysical world that doesn’t make a tremendous amount of sense the way it’s portrayed.
Are there rules to this? Can she leave the hospital, or is she tethered to her corporeal form? Why would a form of energy that’s not bound by any earthly laws of matter need to rely on other people to open doors?
Thankfully, there’s no development that involves someone suggesting doctors pull the plug, launching us into a debate that nobody really wants.
If you’re seeing “If I Stay” with the hopes that it will be like the teen version of “Ghost” and someone still has the chance to live, you may want to adjust your expectations. On the other hand, if you want a surprisingly mature look at the ever-rich topic of young dating — albeit taking a back seat to recent features like “The Spectacular Now” or this summer’s “The Fault in Our Stars” — break out the tissues and be ready to sidestep logic while listening to some pleasing music.
Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.