Chloe Grace Moretz can make any role plausible, from a deadly 13-year-old superhero in “Kick-Ass” to a centuries-old vampire trapped in the body of teen in “Let Me In.”
But even her formidable talents can’t breathe life into the dippy romance “If I Stay.” It’s not the supernatural bent of this opposites-attract tearjerker that makes it so phony; it’s the normal stuff. Nearly every conversation reveals a hollow disconnect, as if the performers didn’t understand English and learned all the dialogue phonetically.
Moretz plays Mia, a classical cellist hoping her dedicated skills can land her a Juilliard audition. She’s encouraged by her father (Joshua Leonard, “The Blair Witch Project”), a retired alt-rock drummer, and mother (Mireille Enos, “Sabotage”), his former “riot grrrl girlfriend.” Although they prefer Smashing Pumpkins to Schubert, they grasp how exceptional Mia is at her instrument.
Also awed by her gift is Adam (Jamie Blackley, “The Fifth Estate”), frontman of Portland, Ore., bar band Willamette Stone (changed from Shooting Star in the Gayle Forman novel, which fans of the Kansas City act must appreciate). Mia and Adam start to date, despite her awkwardness at mingling with his hipster friends.
“I was certainly bred to be a rocker. But I have this theory I was switched at birth,” Mia says.
When the pull of New York’s Juilliard runs counter to his West Coast record contract obligations, the usual career vs. commitment issues arise. Then a tragic accident forces Mia and Adam to re-examine everything they believe is important.
Oh, and her body is in a coma while her spirit floats around.
In addition to the low-key charm of Moretz and some nice supporting work from Stacy Keach as Mia’s grieving grandfather, the flashbacks almost save the movie. Director R.J. Cutler (“The September Issue”) and writer Shauna Cross (“Whip It”) portion out enough new info with each return to the past to build some third-act momentum.
Just about everything else lands with a thud. The movie is crammed with music and/or musical references. Shoutouts to Iggy Pop and Sonic Youth feel shoehorned — or worse, compulsory. The tunes that not-very-strong singer Adam delivers have a bland ’90s vibe. For someone so vocal about being into “punk rock,” it sounds like his main influence is Matchbox 20. (Adam fully deserves the startlingly generic headline “Local band on the rise” in a newspaper article displayed to verify his success.)
Basically, the guy is a total stiff. But it’s hard to blame actor Blackley — who looks like a less edgy Russell Brand — because he’s forced to say Disney Channel sitcom lines such as, “Your parents seem really cool.” At least Mia is equally dull. Kind of a downer, really. In that respect, they’re a perfect couple.
“It’s very inconvenient to fall in love at your age,” Mia’s mom advises her.
Yet the movie is all about convenience. Every flashback speed bump is introduced to add artificial conflict to a story with little to begin with. Not even a near-death experience can distract from the fact this is a romance made in heaven. And in real life, things would likely be fixed with one simple decision: Willamette Stone would add a cellist to the lineup.
‘IF I STAY’
Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:46