If I Stay (2014)

(On Cable TV, November 2016) There’s an amazingly thin line between emotional effectiveness and straight-up manipulation, and If I Stay kept hopping around that line far too often to my liking. It certainly doesn’t pull any punches, beginning with a terrible car crash and then gradually killing off the protagonist’s family member one by one. The supernatural aspect of the film allows the protagonist to run around a hospital in-between flashbacks and news of her family’s extinction as she decides to stay or go in the afterlife. If that sounds like a lot of melodrama, then further brace yourselves, because If I Stay is shameless in the way it creates more romantic drama out of nowhere and blends everything with an artificial dilemma for our college-bound over-coddled heroine. Not being from a musical background, I kept changing my mind on whether the film’s idealistic focus on music was endearing or pretentious. (I settled on endearing, but it was a challenge at time.) Chloe Moretz is not bad as the main character, although the film’s strongest scenes are the ensemble sequences in which the family comes together. The film really wants viewers to cry and doesn’t mess around during its three-ring climax—if grandpa’s speech doesn’t get you, then the boyfriend’s song or the protagonist’s decision will. If I Stay is semi-effective in that it sometimes works, but the manipulation is obvious and is likely to make some members of the audience resent the film. But so it goes for romantic dramas—if you won’t like the ride, don’t buy the ticket.

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