Monday, August 25, 2014

Film Review: If I Stay

Saturday morning I decided to cry my eyes out at an early showing of If I Stay.



Any money saved by going to that early show was quickly spent on eating my feelings afterward, and buying a feel-good book to counter all the sad.

That's good, by the way. In case you were wondering.

If I Stay is the film based on Gayle Forman's book of the same name. Earlier this summer I reviewed If I Stay, and it's companion, Where She Went.

If I Stay is the story of a Mia, a seventeen year old girl whose family was in a terrible car accident. She is in a coma, yet can still observe the world around her, including learning what has happened to her parents and baby brother. Should she fight to stay alive?

Here is the thing. I cried at the trailers for this film. I cried when I read the book. I knew all the plot points. There were no surprises. And yet.... I cried through the whole film.

Why?

Because sometimes, it's not what happens. It's the emotional journey. And no matter how many times you go on that journey, it remains heart wrenching. Plus, Chloe Grace Moretz as Mia was stunning -- the perfect portrayal of not just Mia, but of a teenage girl, with insecurities and faults, strengths and passion. She made Mia so real that my heart broke, yet again, as I saw Mia realizing what she had lost and trying to decide if what she had left was enough.

As in the book, If I Stay introduces us to Mia, a teenager who is fairly typical. She has a good family and friends and a boyfriend. She loves them; they love her. That's big. That's huge. And it's a huge thing played out against a life that is not much different from the viewers. That Mia is "just another teen" is the strength of this movie. Oh, yes, she's also a cellist who wants to go to Julliard, and I'm not diminishing her talent or her dream but really -- she's not a superstar. She's not performing in front of crowds from the time she's five.

Even in Mia's music, which yes, matters to her -- it's hers, and it's something she loves and is passionate about, but it's also something that she's not sure of. Is she good enough? It's a question any teen asks themselves, as they try to decide what to do with their life. It's a bit heightened in that Mia's father is in a band, and she's grown up around music and musicians (even if it's not her type of music), so she's well aware -- even if its never outright stated -- that a person can love something and it not mean they are the best at it.

One thing I like about visual storytelling is it can show me things, reveal things, that I may not have picked up in the book. And yes, sometimes this is because of changes in the adaptation, but it's often about staying true to the spirit of the book if not the text. So, for me, the movie made me understand more how Mia viewed her father leaving his band to pursue a job that was more stable as something he did because of her younger brother, Teddy -- never realizing it was also for her.

The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED.

There were a couple changes that I thought made the movie stronger. Slight spoilers, here --

In both, Adam and Mia's other friends at first cannot visit her because of hospital rules limiting visitors to immediate family. So, of course, they decide a distraction is needed -- and it's changed in the movie. Personally, the book-one was one that I had eye-rolled at but that's because I found it too over the top for my tastes; and I think the movie-one makes much more sense and is more "real."

My only slight problem with the movie -- and this I think is editing -- also has to do with the visitor rule. (Spoilers, again.) While the viewer can infer that a family friend who works at the hospital stepped in to allow visitors despite the rule, it's not explicitly said, and I can see some viewers thinking "wait, look at all those visitors now? why?" (And if it was explicit and I didn't hear that line in my crying, let me know and I'll remove this paragraph.)

One last personal observation: the book was fresh in my mind. So I cannot write to the experience of someone who has no knowledge of the book -- whether, to them, the movie worked as well as it did for me.

So overall: thumbs up!

Now, on to quibble about other people's reviews. In part because for both of them, I wondered how much it was about teen girls, and films for teen girls, than this particular film.

While The New York Times review is overall good, why the hell does any review of If I Stay need to include a The Fault In Our Stars reference? Maybe I'm being a bit sensitive, but it seems like many other films, for other genres and audiences beyond teen girls, get reviewed without including references to other films for the same audience.

Also calling Adam a bad boy...where in the film does it say he is? Adam is only a "bad boy" for a viewer who assumes, from the start, that any teenage boy in a band is "bad." Which just leaves me annoyed, because "bad" is about actions, not about liking to play punk / rock music; wearing leather; and having a less-than-perfect family. Also, why not just praise Moretz as a good actor? Saying she's good at this role because it somehow reflects something in her own diminishes Moretz's accomplishments, even if its meant as a compliment. It's called ACTING.

I'm also less than a fan of the School Library Journal review, but that's more because I disagree that Moretz's performance made Mia into a girl who was "taciturn and a bit sullen." (Yes, Mia is shown to be a private and quiet, but especially combining taciturn with "sullen" leads me to think this isn't using the tern taciturn in a positive way.) That and other ways the review talks about Mia makes me think "ok, so Moretz is playing a typical teen...and that's somehow not good?" I also have to rewatch the film because I thought the point of their car trip was visiting friends and family, not snowboarding, but I may have missed that reference. And I think paring down Mia's circle of family and friends is necessary for a film; too many people can be too hard to keep track of. But that's just me.











Movie poster from Gayle Forman's Tumblr.

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

4 comments:

marjorie said...

"The movie is true to the book, but something happened at one point where I both feared and hoped that a change had been made and I said to myself, please please please even though there was no way, no way, and it was just like in the book BUT STILL MY FOOLISH HEART, IT HOPED."

WAIT WHAT DO YOU MEAAAAAAAN????

Great review! My feels about the movie: Beautiful cinematography. Vancouver stood in admirably for Portland. So relieved that RJ Cutler kept the parents central instead of turning this into all-love-story-all-the-time. Liked the build of Adam's band getting more and more famous. Stacy Keach as the grandfather BLEW MY MIND with his awesome. Disagree with SLJ that Jamie Blackley spoke in a monotone (?). And the actress who played Kim was HILARIOUS. (Now THAT'S a monotone.)

The best thing about the AO Scott review, for me, was that it was genuinely respectful. And he read the book. Oh, I could quibble with his complaint that the Bach suite is the most overplayed cello piece in the universe; we grownups may know that, but I'm not sure teenagers do, and it is a GORGEOUS piece. Between that and the powerful audition scene, I kept thinking wow, this movie could introduce a lot of teenagers to classical music. MITZVAH!

I had some issues, but given what could have been, I thought it was excellent.

PS. What feel-good book did you buy afterward? (Me, I had feel-good alcoholic beverages.)

Liz B said...

spoilers!! Marjorie, I hoped that the little brother wasn't going to die. I also found the film did a great job showing that Mia was staying for her brother not because she had someone left but so that he would have someone, still.

I loved how they showed Mia's relationship with classical music.

And the Scott review was pretty good, it just had the misfortune to push some of my current buttons: mentioning THE FAULT IN MY STARS all the time, "bad boys" and what they are and are not (I should do a blog post) and blurring the lines between the character an actor creates and the actor.

marjorie said...

I hear you on the ritual invocation of the John Green.

You should TOTALLY do a blog post on "bad boys and what they are not"! (Thinking about this particularly in the wake of the NYT "obituary" for Michael Brown -- not just in saying he was "no angel" but in saying OMG HE DABBLED IN RAP AOOGA AOOGA.)

I still wanna know what feel-good book you bought!

Liz B said...

My purchase was the latest hardcover Nora Roberts. I know what I'm getting, and she delivers it.

Also I didn't realize until I went to IMDB that the dad is played by one of the three people from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.

yes, part of the writing around Mike Brown is what is circling in my head. now just to have it go onto the page in a way that makes sense!

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