"If I Stay" (2014) | Movie vs. Book Review

Release date: August 22, 2014
Runtime: 1 hr. 46 min. 
MPAA Rating: PG-13

I was originally going to do a separate book review of If I Stay, but since I'm burning through the sequel I thought I would do a double review once I'm done. Instead, today I'm going to tell you about the movie version I saw last week and how it compares to the book. If you've never heard anything about If I Stay, it's a story about a girl named Mia, who is in a coma after a car accident. She's having an out-of-body experience and must decide whether she wants to live or die. Both the book and the movie take place in two timelines: the current situation at the hospital and flashbacks to Mia's fairly recent past. The novel is a cryfest, and for those who have read it the movie will be a cryfest as well. The film is getting mixed reviews at this point, and I think its biggest issue is that it's made primarily for book fans. This isn't to say that it wouldn't resonate with non-readers, but I definitely think it makes more sense as an adaptation versus a standalone film.

Here is why I enjoyed the movie:

  • The casting is excellent: Chloë Grace Moretz does a stunning job as Mia and so do all of the other actors. The relationships and chemistry are very believable.
  • Most of the dialogue is taken straight from the pages of the book and it was great to hear the actors say the familiar lines.
  • The mood of the movie matches the mood of the book.
  • While there are some changes to the story, it's nothing major. If anything, those small unexpected details made it more interesting while the main plot points remained the same.

Do you notice a trend here? All of the things I liked are related to my book-reading experience. Now, if that was taken away, I'm not entirely sure what would I have picked up on. The solid acting and relationships? Definitely. But would the script have worked for me if I didn't know the detailed story? I don't know. One of the biggest issues I had with it was the fact that the film took a much more romantic approach, as if in the end all that mattered was Mia's relationship with Adam (her boyfriend). In film flashbacks their relationship is much more detailed than it is in the book and most of the story changes and additions have to do with the romance. What's cut from the story are Mia's non-Adam interactions and a lot of hospital time.

Here are the changes I wasn't a fan of:

  • In the book the ratio of hospital to flashbacks is pretty even—about 50:50. In the movie flashbacks are definitely the majority of what you see.
  • The film takes a less graphic approach to the whole thing. Starting with the initial accident and pretty much throughout the entire thing, this aspect is downplayed. Not that I need a lot of violence or anything, but part of why the book is so heartbreaking is the striking contrast between Mia's past life and the harsh reality of her present. 
  • Mia seems a lot more desperate for her relationship in the film than she is in the book. This has a lot to do with added details and scene changes, but even in general the two do not come off as equals (which they do in the book). Here it's a classic case of the guy being selfish and possessive, and the girl kind of just taking it.

So here is the thing: this isn't a bad movie. I actually thought it was pretty good as an adaptation and I definitely did my fair share of crying in the theatre. But it could have been so much stronger and it could have held its own as a film. It's a real shame it didn't.

Have you seen this movie and/or read the book? What did you think?