It seemed that there was endless press about “If I Stay” movie in the hopes that it will live up to similar YA book adaptations like “The Fault in Our Stars,” “Divergent,” and “The Hunger Games.” It was endlessly pushed as a movie about all the forms of love, with various “live for love” and “live for friendship” ads on Twitter and Facebook. While “If I Stay” did fairly well in the box office this weekend, coming in at $16.4 million, it didn’t quite live up to its hype of a $25-million weekend. Unlike “Divergent,” “If I Stay” isn’t an action-packed, dystopian, heroic tale, and no amount of tweeting can make up for the social media juggernaut that is John Green.
“If I Stay” tells the story of Mia, a teenaged cellist, who gets in a wreck while in the car with her family. She then has an out-of-body experience and watches everything happening to her. There have been some negative reviews about this adaptation, and honestly, there are some things I agree with and some things I don’t even notice. One reviewer curses the use of soft light, and while by the end I wished for more variety, it gave the movie a dreamlike quality which makes sense for a story told by someone in a coma.
Since I am not a professional movie reviewer I tend to look at the story and the characters, which I already loved so much, thanks to the books written by Gayle Forman. There were very few things I didn’t like about this book, and I eagerly awaited the release of the movie to see if it compared to the emotional rollercoaster this story in the book had taken me on. Some have commented on the slow-moving pace (which is ironic because the main character is in a COMA) and long and boring flashbacks (which I loved). Even if I didn’t know who the characters were, it’s reasonable to think about happier times when people you love have died and you are lying in a hospital bed.
Some reviewers have commented that Chloe Grace Moretz carried the rest of the cast, and that claim is utterly absurd. Moretz is a wonderful, emotive actress, but Jamie Blackley in his portrayal of Adam, Mia’s boyfriend, is complex, loving, and heartbreaking. Music plays a huge role in Mia and her family’s life. She comes from a family of punk rockers and she chooses to make the cello her instrument. Adam is in a band and loves the punk rock scene. Blackley said in an interview that he liked seeing Adam and Mia love the same thing (music) in completely different ways. Music was constant throughout the movie, and like with any movie it plays a part in explaining my feelings for the moment. Is it hard and heavy rock or sweet and lilting cello? Having Blackley playing the guitar and singing added an authenticity to the movie that was portrayed well in the song lyrics written for the story. The soundtrack is a must-have.
I haven’t mentioned Mia’s family yet, and I don’t think I can. Watching someone lose people they love is difficult, even when the people exist only on the page. One of the things I love about this story is that it doesn’t directly broach the topic of moving on without her family, but it is implied that if she stays she will be alone. My absolute favorite moment is when her friend, Kim, comes to sit by her bed and tells her about all the people who have come to see her. Then she says,
“There are, like, twenty people in that waiting room right now. Some of them are related to you. Some of them are not. But we’re all your family. You still have a family.”
In the midst of this heartbreak there was hope. Her family might be gone, but she wouldn’t be without people to love her. An important message for all those who feel they don’t have love because their relationship with their family is strained.
It is hard to put into words how I feel about book adaptations. Sometimes they blatantly run over important plot points, character traits, and dialogue; other times they are beautiful and capture not just the essence of the story we love, but the meaning, and leave us feeling satisfied. Generally, my response to book adaptations is that they are a different medium and deserve different judgement based on things that aren’t in the books. The only change that really threw me was Adam’s relationship with his parents. They aren’t in the book at all, and no one misses them. The movie turned his dad into a deadbeat. Maybe following the book’s lead and leaving them out altogether would’ve been a better choice?
There are so many different ways to review a movie, and it all comes down to one question. What do I want from this movie? This movie certainly doesn’t have it all. There is a car wreck, but not a car chase; there is romance, but no graphic sex scenes (there is some steam, though). There is conflict, but no mystery. There are certain stories that make you cry out of the unfairness of life—I’m looking at you, TFIOS—but the characters of “If I Stay” didn’t see this coming, and it was Mia remembering her best days: Sitting with her friend, spending time with her family, falling in love with Adam, and falling in love with the cello that made me feel small. Mia trying to decide what the world has left without her family is a heartbreaking struggle that truly demonstrates the unfair nature of life. You can have everything, but not forever. If you want a story with heart, that might make you think about the things you love and why you love them, then “If I Stay” is a movie you need to see.