In the early months of the year I had just finished a massive Victorian novel by George Elliot. I needed something easy to chew through in a day, so I picked If I Stay by Gayle Forman. As most American novels marketed to teenage girls and (I suspect more so) their mothers, It is short, formulaic, and allows clichés to run wild. Much easier to communicate an idea to someone if you use the most well worn examples. Two exceptional musicians, one a future rock-star, the other a superb concert cellist, but falling in love… It could be nauseating, except that it isn’t.
I really enjoyed the book, so much so that I postponed writing this review until I had seen the movie. So this is in fact a review of both, how lucky you are! The book was written in 2009, the film was released in 2014 and starred Chloë Grace Moretz.
Both complement each other, and both are unrelenting tear jerkers. I apologise if the flow of this piece is a little strained, I don’t want to get particular about dividing evenly between the book and the film. I read the book in January, and saw the film last night. So I will concentrate more on the film.
Both focus on the critical point (mild spoiler alert); how do you live after your family has been killed and your own life hangs in the balance? When your will to live is the only thing keeping you alive, how do you stay when your world is gone? This is the purpose of the book and the film, and they both handled it with grace.
The difference between the two is merely the translation of the written word into visuals. Sometimes the movie is more natural in conveying things — like teen romance — and sometimes the events in the book have more raw power. When you are forced to imagine the broken body of a father with no reference beyond your own experience, the face you put to the body gives the scene more emotional depth than cinema could ever achieve.
Chloë Grace Moretz is the best actress of her age. I do not doubt that, and I am willing to debate those who think otherwise. She plays Mia, the talented cellist who has applied to Julliard, and who has to choose life without her family, or death without everything else. A problem I had going into the film was that it was set amid the cloudy backdrop of the pacific north west. I feared a Twilight influence in the romance, and was ecstatic when I found this not to be true.
The romance is dealt with honestly, portraying the desperate intensity of young love without belittling it. It neither makes it so suffocatingly strong that the doey faces of the protagonists are burned into your mind. And, the relationship of the ex-rocker parents is a source of comic relief, and refreshing realism.
What really impressed me was the supporting cast. Apart from Moretz, no-one is familiar, although most are superb acting veterans. When Hollywood tones itself down, and lets the lights of the indie-film community shine without the A-list stars, the result is all the more triumphant.
The film is a tear jerker as I have said, and for me the scene (mild spoiler alert) in which Mia’s grandfather tells her how much she means to him, and that she has permission to go if she wants to, that scene had the tears rolling down my cheeks. How does America have such acting talent and not use it at every opportunity? I may have to rewatch several scenes as an emotional catharsis.Even Alfred Hitchcock said a reason to see some movies is to have a good cry.
Ultimately the book and the film are so complementary that images from the film on the new book covers seems absolutely right. I urge you to see or read either, and stop for a few hours to consider what is of value in your life. If you ever had to ask the question, would you stay?