Pictured: Chloë Grace Moretz delivering some of her more effective acting in If I Stay
Meet Mia Hall: she's sort of like a Disney princess, but in real life – she gets to have everything that every shy girl her age wishes she had, but at the cost of her parents dying. She has perfect, indestructible hair; the cute older boy in high school who's also a musician instantly sees how special she is on the inside and pursues her; and her deadbeat parents are worldly enough to always supply her with the perfect, textbook answer to all of life's problems. Unsurprisingly, then, this movie is generic like no other – it's so busy basking in its own pretentiousness and blandness that it often forgets it has a plot to get through.
Throughout If I Stay, music makes a recurring appearance as theme, plot device, and deus ex machina. It's quite the trend, these days, to resort to overlaying pseudo-artsy shots of snow-afflicted trees with classical music, and it should be no surprise that it is exactly during such a scene that Mia's life is thrown into chaos – one day, in a car ride with her family, a stray car appears to lose traction on the snowy road, crash into Mia & co., and catapult Mia into a fake, pretentious melodrama where her ghost, presiding over her comatose body, chases the latter around on the way to the hospital and continues from thereon to try and come to terms with the gravity of the situation. Personally, I just couldn't care; the movie's far too slow for the supposed tween audience this kind of love story appeals to, far too unrealistic for any adults unfortunate enough to be watching, and completely nonsensical for just about everyone else.
Consider, for example, Mia's seeming intent to choose to die, near the movie's end – she doesn't want to go on because her immediate family has just died, but what about her boyfriend, grandparents, and friends? Consider Mia's incessant ability to doubt herself in the face of overwhelming evidence – when Adam is, by all accounts, very much into her, during the incipiency of the movie, Mia finds excuse after excuse to illogically justify away his interest; and when Mia gets an audition from Juilliard, she still believes she's not "good enough." Perhaps that's really what the whole thing is about, anyway, since the only black character throughout the entire movie–a role which is often delegated in this archetype to the all-knowing advisor–is a weird, spiritual nurse who doesn't appear to have any job other than whispering to comatose Mia about her sole responsibility in overcoming the massive trauma incurred by her body through non-medical means, and is careful to make sure we understand that whether or not Mia lives is entirely independent of medical intervention. What ends up happening, then, is that Mia vacillates so many times between deciding to live and die that you'd need a metronome to keep up.
It just makes no sense – if music is what brings Mia back from letting go, why does literally hearing it being played through her boyfriend's iPhone mean so much? As a prodigy, isn't she able to recall various songs with vivid detail anyway? The whole point of an out of body experience is to explore the self, and to have her decision therefore hinge on something external completely undermines that, unless this movie means to say that absent Adam's intervention, Mia is powerless to prevent her sadness from overpowering her will to live. It's not as if this guy is a white knight, mind you – he takes great offense when Mia makes an important decision regarding Juilliard and her future without first telling him, with the implication being that as his girlfriend, Mia is under mandate to share every last detail about her life with him. It's kind of a red flag, don't you think? Perhaps not in this kind of movie, as the only seeming complaint that Mia ever brings up against Adam is his proximity to one of his female band members, who, in turn, turns out to be gay – gay, of course, because otherwise, Mia's dream guy could be construed as something other than "the perfect boyfriend," since guys and girls can't ever just be friends.
In a similar vein, Mia's family members are a bunch of caricatures, each trying out their own brand of authenticity and completely missing the mark. There's literally not a single hair on any of their heads that's out of place, nor is there a single question that Mia can bring up that one of them can't answer – even Mia's toddler-something brother is able to competently lift her spirits when she doubts her musical ability, for the umpteenth time. I can't really count the number of times I had to roll my eyes, and let me tell you, that's even if I'm foregoing the rolls caused exclusively from clichéd dialogue such as "you're my everything" or "I'll love you tomorrow the way I loved you yesterday" – the true culprit is the ambiguous, recurring reference to "the power of music," which the movie makes no attempt to explain or substantiate in terms of significant events for Mia; it's actually pretty ironic that Adam is the one whose life truly revolves around music, but then it's Mia's life that's literally saved by it.
In short, if If I Stay was to be assigned some song to try to encapsulate its meaning, the front-runner would likely be something by Rebecca Black – shallow, vapid, boring.