In Chloë Grace Moretz ‘s new film “If I Stay,” she plays Mia, a gifted teenage cellist from a family of musicians. When a catastrophic accident throws her into a coma she has an out-of-body experience. The rest of the story is told from the perspective of her memories before the accident and in the present, as she observes, ghostlike, the aftermath of the car crash.
Based on bestselling novel by Gayle Forman “If I Stay” is a romance, a coming-of-age story and a supernatural family drama. That’s a whole lotta genres bumping heads, but director R.J. Cutler does an admirable job at balancing the elements. Using the book as the movie’s backbone, his approach is almost literary, as he treats each component like a chapter in a novel. He turns the pages, introducing each new twist, giving the audience time to adjust. What could have been a muddle is, instead, a living breathing thing, a story unafraid to wear its heart on its sleeve.
Juggling genres aside, the movie has a complicated flashback structure. When it’s not reflecting on the past the tale is told through Mia’s eyes, a young girl halfway between life and turning into a ghost. She must piece together the events of her day and decide whether she wants to go on or slip into a permanent sleep.
At the center of all this is Moretz, an actress who, over the course of a short but eventful career, has made a habit of playing introverted characters with rich lives swirling around them, and here, she delivers what may be her best performance yet. As Mia she is a talented teen just discovering a life beyond the cello that has been her constant companion since she was young. It’s a simple and uncluttered performance with a lot going on behind the eyes.
“If I Stay,” but its nature is melodramatic. It’s a study of life and loss, leaning heavily on the regret of building relationships only to see them disappear in the wink of an eye. Luckily Moretz’s subtle performance prevents the movie from becoming a soap opera of despair.