MidnightINK: ‘If I Stay’ Movie Premiere Review

Both adult (3) and teen (5) females were in my group that watched this movie early this morning. Both groups liked it, thinking it, as one teen said, “hella sad.” Having read the book, I was pleasantly rewarded with a faithful adaptation of Gayle Forman’s amazingly touching book (see my original review of If I Stay).

Some reviews that I have read have dismissed this movie because they determined the main character to be another self-centered teen who only cares about herself, some sound dismissive, that it’s “more manipulative than moving.” Regarding the first comment: this movie is about choices. The ones we make, and the ones that are thrust upon us. The ones we do for ourselves, and the ones that we do for other people.

If I Stay movie poster

Here’s Mia, a cello prodigy with an amazingly tight family. She feels like the odd duck (her parents are a former punk-rock drummer and riot grrrl; her much younger brother loves Iggy Pop) who is more at home with Beethoven and his brethren. She’s also an introvert, preferring to get through high school so she can focus on her career in music.

In this just-about-perfectly-ordered-world steps Adam, a musician and fellow high school student, whose band is starting to make itself known in Portland. One day he sees Mia practicing, totally blissed out and in her zone. He’s smitten. She’s unsure, not wanting any complications in her disciplined life. He pursues, she agrees. But life is never simple, and then boom. Car crash. While Mia lingers in a coma, she has an out-of-body experience. She can follow the doctors around as they tend to her and her family. She can hear her grandparents and friends grieving, worrying, wishing, letting her go. Then Adam comes, and he asks of her something he must: Please. Stay.

As far as feeling manipulated, I never did. I am already a known crier, I have read this book, and Gayle Forman is one of my favorite YA authors. That comment makes me feel like I am not supposed to feel the way I did about this story. Like it’s pedestrian. Not worthy. So, having already loved it, I am glad to say that I think that a faithful movie was made and I was very happy with it.

The movie was beautifully filmed, from these incredible scenes of snow and ice-covered trees to the intimate space of the family home to the hospital scenes where I felt out of my body. When harsh reality sets in, the cinematography is in sync. And one thing that I really appreciated was the realness of the people cast. While no one was wart-covered or missing teeth (except, possibly, for the kid who played Teddy), everyone looked genuine; it’s like casting Ansel Elgort as Gus in The Fault in Our Stars. While he’s super adorable, he isn’t some over-the-top gorgeous model-type who pouts and preens for the camera. The same can be said of Jamie Blackley, who really looks the part. Both actors are gorgeous because they inhabit their characters and you are attracted to that.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the house (except for one of my daughter’s friends who didn’t even cry when Rue was killed in The Hunger Games or at any point during The Fault in Our Stars, so she doesn’t count) when Stacey Keach, ol’ Mike Hammer himself, delivers a speech at his comatose granddaughter’s bedside. It didn’t feel like we were watching a movie anymore, just a bereaved man who had, in one fell swoop, almost lost everything he loves. It was heart-crushing.

So who’s right? As with any movie, every person brings so much baggage with them. And, unless it is totally butchered and different from the source material that you love, I think the viewer goes home happy.

(And, just for the record, the audience gave the movie 79%.)

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