Thursday, August 7, 2014

If I Stay Movie Review: Superior In All Ways To The Fault in Our Stars In The Currently Popular Teenage Tearjerker Genre

From left: Liana Liberato (Kim Schein), Chloe Grace Moretz (Mia Hall), Gayle Forman (author of If I Stay) at the August 7, 2014 screening of If I Stay in San Francisco, at the AMC Metreon 16 movie theater.

An If I Stay inspired bracelet made by the ever talented Jenna from her Etsy store Book Geek Boutique, which I wore to the screening.

During a period when I ran out of books to read, I decided to check out books that were slated for a 2014 movie adaptation release, and that was how I ended up reading the beautifully penned Gayle Foreman novel If I Stay. Both the book and movie moved me like neither The Fault In Our Stars book nor its movie counterpart did. Unlike my movie experience of The Fault In Our Stars, where I felt like a total monster for being totally unmoved to cry when nearly the rest of the movie theater did, I couldn't help shedding a couple of tears during the final poignant moments of If I Stay, as I believe did many in the movie audience.

Surprisingly, who should pop up before the San Francisco screening I was at but Gayle Forman herself, along with stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Liana Liberato, to promote the movie. Chloe kept on exhorting us to go see the movie again when it gets released August 22, but I don't really know if I have it in me to go see it again, not because it's a bad movie, but because it not only moved me but also left me emotionally drained by screening's end.

The movie is mostly faithful to the book, and any changes that the moviemakers have made are understandable, although fans of the book will be disappointed when they realize that a madcap attempt by Adam to break into the ICU ward has almost been completely excised from its original book version. To have included it would have been tonally jarring to the melody of Mia's life that director R.J. Cutter is trying to compose on the big screen.

Chloe Grace Moretz carries this movie admirably by herself, and she is helped along by quite a strong supporting cast playing her family and friends. Jamie Blackley, who plays Mia's love interest Adam Levine is every girl's fantasy version of a near perfect boyfriend. He is therefore unfortunately the most unrealistic character in both the book and movie itself, although his many gestures of love to Mia are sure to set female teenage hearts aflutter.

For a movie that is mostly marketed in the trailer as a teenage romance drama, the most moving scenes in the film actually come from the interactions that Mia has with her family rather than from her scenes with Adam, which is quite a remarkably pleasant change from other teen movies I've watched before where romance is usually located front and center and backwards and sideways to the exclusion of almost anything else. In fact, the most gut-puncher of a scene was one between Mia and her grandfather, played by the ever fabulous Stacy Keach (Nebraska), which caused a few tears to involuntarily leak out of my eyes.

In handling such a difficult and delicate topic such as death, director Cutter is able to adroitly juxtapose scenes of happier times before with scenes that show the present tragic situation, so there are both laughs and tears to be had. Nevertheless, as with many movie adaptations, something is lost in between the translation from book to screen. In If I Stay, some of the more powerful feelings and emotions evoked from reading Forman's sparse simple prose, written in a first person Mia Hall narrative, unfortunately does not fully come through on the big screen.

Still, the movie is rather excellently and tastefully done and I definitely recommend catching this movie in theaters come August 22. If I have a few small complaints, they are minor ones. Personally, I didn't really like the songs that Adam sang throughout the movie; they just didn't resonate with me somehow and rather dispelled the movie's notion that he is supposed to be a rising rock star. I also felt that there were just one too many snogging scenes in the movie, one which I am sure the largely female-centric audience that will turn out for this movie would have no such issue with.

4 out of 5 stars for me.

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