So apparently in less than a month, there will be an influx of distraught, self-proclaimed If I Stay fans who have never read the book. That is a honestly a horrifying prospect.
I read Gayle Forman’s If I Stay a little over four years ago, which is around a year after its release. So I remember the days when the book only had like 200 reviews on Amazon. Now it’s up to like 1500, I believe. I admit it does suck a little to feel not as hipster anymore. Anyway, I can still clearly recall that one sad, sad night in which those malevolent 200 pages knifed me to death, ripping my heart out of my fucking ribcage and tearing it into bloody meat balls. That actually sounds fucking delicious. But seriously, I was niagara-falling the entire two hours that I spent curled up under my blanket flipping through those damned pages with my shaking hands. Goddammit.
I don’t think I need to explain further the psychological trauma that book inflicted on my fragile psyche. The plot itself is simple enough. Seventeen year old Mia is a prodigious cello player with a bright future at Juilliard, chill as fuck parents, an adorable kid brother called Teddy, and a sexy, rock star boyfriend, Adam. Then one cold winter morning, fate decides to sink its rotten, grotesque teeth into her beautiful life by dropping a stupid, fat pickup truck into an already treacherous icy road on which Mia and her family were driving to see some relatives (it’s been four years since I last read the book, so I’m not 100% sure if the last part is entirely accurate). So fate and the stupid truck kill Mia’s parents and her little brother, leaving her with a bunch of broken limbs and in a coma. She immediately gets into some sort of out-of-body state in which her spirit leaves her unconscious body and experiences all the chaos occurring in the ER around her. She eventually realizes that she has a choice live or die; staying means Adam and music and a future, leaving means reunion with her parents and brother.
Since the movie hasn’t been released yet, I can only judge what’s to come in the two-minute trailer. The casting is by no means awful, and I do think Chloe Moretz’s acting is strong enough to carry the film (btw, since when did the girl become so hot?? Remember her in Hugo?). But there’s something about the trailer that seems just so chick flick to me. I don’t mean no disrespect to chick flicks at all, but If I Stay is NOT a fucking chick flick. It’s about a girl grappling with the void left by her family’s death, torn between a irretrievable past filled with joy and love and a bleak future filled with loss and uncertainty. I don’t know if the movie can capture the poignant contrast between the happy flashbacks and the agonizing present. The turmoil in Mia’s narration just can’t be conveyed through freaking voice over. And here’s the thing that bugs me the most: Adam’s presence is in no way the only reason for Mia to stay and live. He is in no way the only silver lining in a life without her parents and brother. Her love for music has the far greater influence, and I have horrible feeling that it’s going to get tragically overshadowed by the trendier, more relatable theme of teenage love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discouraging anyone from watching the movie. In fact, I’m going to watch it as soon as it comes out. I just wanted to point out some of the most glaring flaws in recent movie adaptations of best-selling YA novels. The profound, complicated themes too often get buried under more typical, tangible ones. Images can’t replace words; they can only simplify and dramatize. One can only cram a limited portion of the original material into an 120 minute motion picture, and it’s much more convenient to translate the most recognizable themes onto film. So rather ironically, watching a movie can never produce the same startling, visceral experience as reading a book for the first time. And reading something as insightful and poignant as If I Stay AFTER watching a dramatically simplified movie version of it is like…I don’t know, watching the replay of the World Cup final after you already knew that your favorite team got crushed. I apologize for that awful analogy, but you get my point. Read the damn book before you watch the movie. It’s an experience you don’t want to throw away.