Page to Screen: If I Stay

if i stay posterThe film based on Gayle Forman’s novel If I Stay starring Chloe Grace Moretz came out this past weekend. It topped the Friday box office with a $6.8 million dollar opening and became the #3 movie of the weekend.

We YA lovers really do love a good opening weekend for the hotly anticipated and heavily marketed films based on our beloved books. If I Stay was named on the 2010 Best Books for Young Adults and Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults lists, and has legions of devoted readers. So how did director, RJ Cutler et al, do with adapting Forman’s novel? I have some mixed feelings about this one, so riffing on Jessica Lind’s post from last week’s The Hub about required reading, read on for the good, the bad and the ugly of this particular film adaptation.

The Good

Well the good news is that according to Rotten Tomatoes, approximately 75% of the audience liked the movie. And the movie does have some really great moments to it. Chloe Grace Moretz plays a beautifully awkward Mia. She plays a believable classical musician outsider, and the scenes she plays with her family are adorably humorous. Moretz also has great chemistry with Jamie Blackley who plays Mia’s Adam. Blackley is believable as the too-cool-to-know-he’s-cool rocker. These are the moments that made me emotionally invested while reading and viewing the film. My favorite scene by far is towards the end of the film when Mia is remembering her favorite day. It’s such a beautiful scene, that I won’t spoil, but all of the characters are together and the music is perfect, just the way I imagined it. You can see her for the first time feeling like she belongs. Unfortunately, the film adaptation didn’t seem to trust or utilize moments/scenes like this one enough, and they could have. A lot of the family scenes and memories play more like a montage throughout the entire movie, so you never really get to feel all that entrenched in Mia’s life. Which leads us to…

The Bad

You can call me a curmudgeon for this and I wouldn’t blame you, but as a whole, I couldn’t really get into this movie. Part of the problem could be that I just read the book so Forman’s words and story structure were just too fresh in my mind while watching. It made a lot of the changes annoying especially since they didn’t seem to enhance the story or serve a purpose. Don’t get me wrong– changes need to be made in adaptations, and I’m all for it if they make the film version better. While they can be necessary, the spirit of the story should always be the central focus. Do the changes in the adaptation help fully envision the essence of what Forman created or hinder it? I’m leaning towards the latter on this one. Was it really necessary to change how her parents die? Mia is supposed to “wake up” after the car crash to the sound of her music still playing from the car, walk around and see that her parents are dead. Shocking and would be visually disturbing but there was still a way for the filmmakers to make this happen while keeping it teen-friendly. Why did this need to change and why did they have to change Teddy’s storyline too? It felt like the filmmakers were trying to time out the emotional moments in the film as opposed to allowing the initial shock of it all and Mia’s reactions carry the story through like the book does. That’s a shame because Forman does such a great job of reflecting on love, loss and pain in a very real way throughout her story.  They just moved to many things around structurally that in the end the movie left me wanting a bit emotionally.

The Ugly

The bright white light. I mean, really?!

Cutler directs this scene at the very end of the film where Mia is finally making her choice, and it’s visually beautiful. They did such a great job with those last few minutes of the film. It was perfect. The visual creativity that they showed there only furthered my annoyance at their clichéd use of the white light throughout the earlier part of the film. It felt like you were being knocked over the head with a bad visual metaphor. White light = afterlife. It just felt hokey after awhile.

Like I said earlier in this post, I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon. I really wanted to like this film, and there were parts that I loved. It’s also amazing that these YA films keep finding these incredible young actors and actresses to play such wonderfully complicated and interesting characters. Like a lot of YA adaptations I’ve seen lately, If I Stay benefited a great deal from the actors’ talents and chemistry, but overall, the storytelling just emotionally missed the mark for me this time.

What did you think of the movie, readers? Do you think I’m crazy and If I Stay is the best movie ever, or were you a little disappointed too?

-Katie Shanahan Yu, currently reading Sisters’ Fate by Jessica Spotswood

Published by

Katie Shanahan Yu

Katie Shanahan Yu is a Media Specialist for a middle school in Rockville, MD. Find her on Twitter: @kakakates