Book to Movie: Before I Die and Now Is Good
Having just watched the movie Now Is Good, I feel a little wrecked. I only finished the novel Before I Die (2008 Teens’ Top Ten) by Jenny Downham yesterday. Despite the change of title, many aspects of the story are faithfully retold to reach the same devastating end. My quickie review is that I still liked the book better, but the movie made me cry when the book could not.
I had not read Before I Die when I found out about the movie Now Is Good. I resolved to read the book first and then see what changes (for good or ill) were made to the movie version. I listened to the e-audiobook, narrated by Charlotte Parry who either is British or has a very convincing accent.
First off, I loved the book. I will recommend this title to anyone willing to listen. My response to the ending was to blurt out, “bloody hell.” I did also hate the ending — it doesn’t end so much as just stops. If you read the synopsis, you know that Tessa has cancer. You can have a reasonable expectation that she may not survive, but I was still completely caught off-guard. Throughout the story, Tessa has an evolving list of items she must do before she gets sicker. Some are simple, like her parents getting back together, but having sex and committing a crime push the envelope. Suddenly, Tessa is participating in youthful indiscretion with her friend Zoe rather than just watching Zoe be wild.
Before I Die reminded me so much of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The main character, Emily, would question, “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it … every, every minute?” I saw this play many times, and each time the ending felt different even though it was the same story. Now Is Good is the same story. Its particular high and low points reach the same conclusion but they take another road getting there.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, please be aware that I may mention points of the story that could influence your enjoyment of either.
Now Is Good made a lot of changes from the novel. Many key events and dialogue are rearranged. The director moved a scene with a radio interview to put more focus on Tessa’s “bucket list.” In the novel we learn that Tessa desires fame; she wants to leave a mark on the world before she dies to prove that she existed in the first place. The change allows for neighbor-turned-boyfriend Adam to help Tessa achieve fame and make him a more integral part of the story. In the book, Zoe dares Tessa to tell a man she loves him and then wade into the river. In the movie, Tessa wades into the ocean with Adam. Somehow the scene from the book seems more dangerous and exciting, whereas the dip in the ocean feels playful and freeing.
To a certain extent I felt the movie was a bit sanitized. In Before I Die, Tessa and Zoe experience mushrooms with Adam’s help. He not only provides the drug, but also prepares it and drives the girls to a safe location to fully experience the high. During this sequence in print, I was terrified for Tessa. I worried the drugs would interact with her cancer medication or that she would get lost or hurt.
A strength of the novel that didn’t make the film cut was Tessa’s insightful and exhaustively honest inner-monologue. I really missed Tessa’s narration of the experience. It’s lacking in the movie, and it’s hard to understand why she believes the forest they hide out in has cured her. Another clean-up is Tessa’s anonymous encounter with a boy, which is essentially removed from the movie. Even her relationship with Adam becomes more emotional than physical. The tenderness of the couple sharing a bed, even in a non-sexual way, just didn’t translate in the movie. Again, without Tessa to explain things, it’s hard to understand why she wants Adam in her bed: she loves the feeling of his hand on her heart as she sleeps.
My recommendation is to see the movie and read the book, or read the book and see the movie. Either way, the story is gripping and will weigh on your mind. I liked both stories for completely different reasons.
— Laura C. Perenic, currently reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman