IF I STAY (R.J. Cutler). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (August 22). See listing. Rating: NN
Mundane moments would become intense if you knew they were your last. That's the conceit behind If I Stay, the latest YA adaptation, which amplifies the emotions of a rudimentary teen romance by having the grim reaper lurk over every kiss and smile.
The adorable Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Mia, an awkward teen and Julliard-bound cellist. Her relationships with a cool rocker dude and her even cooler parents are seen in flashbacks from her deathbed. A car accident has swiped out her family, leaving her clinging to life, evaluating whether she should stick around, as if the choice hasn't already been made.
Moretz is reliably charming, working through the most derivative scenarios with a twinkle in her eye that should soften even the most rigid viewers. She's joined by an amiable ensemble who are all out to prove how lovely and sweet life is, just so every looming fatality in the movie will be that much more heartbreaking.
Alternating between those two sentimental extremes, If I Stay works precise calculations to get the tear ducts flowing and turn multiplexes into Splash Works. Why else would Mia play the cello? Few other instruments sound more like sobbing. And the movie often shoots her in soft-focus, as if even the camera lens is getting misty-eyed.