What the Liam Neeson action flick "Taken" was to middle-age men, the Chloë Grace Moretz romance "If I Stay" may be to preteen girls: cinematic catnip that works best on a particular species.
Based on Gayle Forman's young-adult bestseller, "If I Stay" stars Moretz as Mia Hall, a high schooler in the suburbs of Portland, Ore. Dad is a former punk rock drummer, mom a onetime riot grrrl, but Mia turned out differently: She's a gifted classical cellist and a goody-goody who doesn't date -- until, that is, she catches the eye of Adam (Jamie Blackley).
Lead singer for the budding rock band Willamette Stone, and himself a stone fox, Adam is a rocker with a sensitive side. After hearing Mia's resonant tones, he strides up to her locker. "You can't hide in that rehearsal room forever," he says. "It's too late. I see you." What girl could turn down a line like that? A romance blossoms, but life will intervene.
It turns out Merge Records might sign him, while Juilliard might want her. What to do? Then comes a terrible car accident that leaves Mia in a coma, even as her spirit roams free of her body. This, Mia knows, is her moment to determine her future.
If there's a genius to "If I Stay," it's the placement of this melodramatic plot twist at the story's beginning. With disaster looming from the get-go, the tale of Mia and Adam, told in flashbacks, takes on added portent. Now, their everyday bickering feels fateful, swoony and potentially tragic. Or so some viewers will think.
There are other things to enjoy, though, in "If I Stay." One is Moretz, 17, who seems a little smarter than her character, and another is the empathetic portrayal of Mia's hip but well-grounded parents (Joshua Leonard, Mireille Enos). "If I Stay" is also one of several recent teen films (including "The Fault in Our Stars") that mark a countertrend to the escapist fantasias of "Twilight" and "Divergent." If you're not in tears by this movie's end, it probably wasn't intended for you anyway.
PLOT Trapped in a coma, a high-school girl looks back on her life. RATING PG-13 (mild language, suggested sexuality, adult themes)
CAST Chloë Grace Moretz, Jamie Blackley, Mireille Enos
BOTTOM LINE Cleverly calculated to produce maximum swooning in a young-adult audience. The sex is chaste, the histrionics high.