After a wave of dystopian, sci-fi-inflected adaptations of young-adult novels in recent years, the romantic drama "If I Stay" arrives as the second movie this summer based on a more down-to-earth YA book.
Whereas "The Fault in Our Stars" scored mostly positive reviews, "If I Stay" isn't faring as well. Critics say the R.J. Cutler-directed film about a teenage cellist (Chloe Grace Moretz) who faces a life-or-death decision is clunky and uninspired.
The Hollywood Reporter's Jon Frosch knocks "If I Stay" for its "lame dialogue, heartstring-yanking music and tired visual approach." The filmmakers, he says, "are clearly playing to a target audience — the same folks who lined up earlier this summer for the vastly superior 'The Fault in Our Stars' — though they do so with dismayingly little effort to freshen up the formula."
Many lines that worked on the page now "land with a thud — and the movie keeps them coming at an alarming pace," Frosch says. Not helping matters is that Cutler "relies on a stable of formal cliches."
Variety's Justin Chang says the movie "hovers in a weird limbo between sensitivity and clumsiness." He adds that "while many in the audience may well find themselves getting misty-eyed as the screen fades to white and softly crooned rock tunes flood the soundtrack, the overall execution is so pedestrian that it's possible to feel more moved by the filmmakers' good intentions than by the actual emotional content onscreen."
On the plus side, Chang says, "Moretz's intelligence and vulnerability as a performer make her an easy screen presence to latch onto, even if she comes off as a bit too self-assured to play nerdy misfit."
The New Jersey Star Ledger's Stephen Whitty writes that "If I Stay" "has one idea, and no surprises." He continues, "Even at just a little over 100 minutes, the film seems like a long slow slog through familiar melodrama. Nothing feels real, let alone at risk. The supposed forces pushing Mia (Moretz) and Adam (Jamie Blackley) apart are the sort of manufactured crises that only drive bad plots."
Whitty says Cutler "seems to think filmmaking consists of merely framing pretty pictures, and cramming the soundtrack full of moony pop." Whitty concludes with a zinger: "'If I Stay' only left me nearly comatose — and very eager to walk into the white light of the lobby."
In a more positive review, the Associated Press' Jocelyn Noveck concedes that "Shauna Cross' script lapses into syrupy platitudes far too often. Just as a scene is building, you may suddenly feel like you've walked into a life-size Hallmark card." But, she adds, "the film lives or dies (sorry) on the strength of its young lovers. And especially Moretz. Though she crinkles her nose a little too often and a little too consciously, she's enticing enough to make you hope that she, well, stays."
In another measured but positive review, the Village Voice's Stephanie Zacharek says, "If you're in the mood for a story about humans who are a little less expendable [than those in 'The Expendables 3'], you could do worse than spend an air-conditioned afternoon watching 'If I Stay.'"
Although the last third of the film drags, Zacharek says, Cutler "is hardly a bumbler, and he approaches all these teenage hyperfeelings with respect and sensitivity. It doesn't hurt that he has Moretz in his corner."
Most film critics, however, are in line with the Seattle Times' Moira Macdonald, who writes, "In a summer that brought us a very good movie about a dying teenage girl ('The Fault in Our Stars'), it seems statistically unlikely that we might get another — and, indeed, we don't."
Macdonald says "If I Stay's" central decision "takes an awfully long time and requires many, many flashbacks, endless shots of Moretz looking pensive and even a last-minute deathbed song, at which point members of the audience may well be ready to switch places with Mia."