I had the opportunity to go to an advance screening of If I Stay last week, courtesy of Rainy Day Books, my favorite Kansas City Independent bookstore. Since I was a huge fan of the book (you can see my review of it and Where She Went, which I liked even better, here) I was hopeful about the adaptation.
It was…okay. I tried not to get my hopes up too high, and I was mostly satisfied. My complaints, as usual, come down to the script. Hollywood has a way of sucking out all the magic of a story, and they definitely siphoned off a little of this one by focusing on the romance at the expense of the scenes that captured what Mia’s family and friends were like.
I was not a huge fan of Chloe Moretz or Jamie Blackley, but their performances were on point. It was a pleasant surprise that Jamie can sing so well, and Chloe nailed the cello performance scenes.
It was mostly faithful to the book, and while I had reservations about how the scenes where Mia is in a coma and seeing her own body on the operating table or seeing her friends and family grieve wouldn’t translate from the book to the screen, they mostly worked.
The cinematography was great, and the color palette created the perfect mood for the story.
But I wasn’t nearly as emotional watching the movie as I was reading the book, even though it happened to be the anniversary of the day my father died, so I was already more weepy than usual.
While I understand why the writers and producers chose to focus on the romance—this is what their target demographic wants, I’m sure—it sacrificed the heart of the story, for me. As much as it is about first love and relationships, it’s about family. Mia is deciding to stay in the Northwest and pursue her relationship with Adam, or go to Julliard and risk their relationship failing as the story opens. Then, with the loss of her family, she has to literally decide if she is strong enough to keep on living. It ended up being more about her and Adam and less about her family.
Here’s what really left a sour taste in my mouth. If you haven’t read the book or care about the slightly different ending of the movie, you might want to skip this part.
:::: Spoiler Alert ::::
In the book If I Stay, Adam delivers a heartfelt speech.
“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”
In the movie, Adam basically says “you have to stay, for me.” Even though he’s been kinda douchey about her applying to Julliard, and they’ve basically broken up. Not only does this throw a wrench into the entire premise of Where She Went, it sends the message that the only reason worth living is a guy.
In addition to this completely lame script change, this movie 100% fails the Bechdel Test. It’s been a few years since I’ve read the book, but I remembered how awesome Mia’s relationship with her best friend Kim was and was sure that they had conversations about things besides Adam. I flipped through the book, and I was totally right. Not only is Kim kick-ass, so is Mia’s mom. My quick skim also found scenes where they talk about things besides Adam. This never made it on screen.
I was also disappointed that they cut the scenes where Brooke from Bikini, the “indie music goddess” that Adam’s band was opening for the night of the accident, creates a ruckus in the hospital so Adam can see Mia.
The two scenes from the book that they totally nailed were the ones with Mia’s grandpa—this was the only time I got teared up.
The paperback edition of If I Stay helpfully lists all the songs mentioned in the book, and the one from Mia’s “best day ever” isn’t included, but the music people for the movie totally nailed the song for the scene where Mia brings her cello out and jams with her family, friends, and Adam. “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins was amazing, and captured the feel of the scene from the book perfectly.
Sidenote: I totally forgot Billy Corgan had hair once upon a time (when Siamese Dream came out).
Do I recommend If I Stay? Mostly. I want more YA books to be adapted for the screen (I’ve made a list) and most of them have been so incredibly terrible (ugh, I watched Divergent this week too, and it was SO BAD) and so I want this one to do well.
Are you going to see If I Stay? When you do, let me know what you thought!