Monday, September 1, 2014

In defense of If I Stay

Sometimes, I really like BuzzFeed and the fact that it doesn't feel like it's written by professionals or media experts.
Sometimes, I don't.
This post, unfortunately, is because of the latter.

Apparently, this compilation of hateful misinterpretations appeared on BuzzFeed the day the If I Stay movie came out, claiming to be a list of reasons why If I Stay is upsetting "for all the wrong reasons." It is not what it claims to be.

This is a list of reasons why the author of this particular list did not like the movie. Period. That is all it is. And because this is the book that got me into YA literature and therefore I'm super protective of it, I am now going to go through the entire list and tell you why the list is a flagrant disregard for the actual things the movie— but more importantly, the book— is about.

So. Here we go.

  1. "If I Stay is no The Fault in Our Stars." Okay, then. Right off the bat we're making a comparison that is not being asked to be made, does not need to be made, and frankly should not be made. If I Stay is not trying to be The Fault in Our Stars, and saying that it is is like saying that the Chronicles of Narnia are trying to be Harry Potter. Gayle Forman's book came out three years before John Green's book did, and frankly this whole trend of determining one YA book's or movie's value by comparing it to another one is not doing anything for anyone. These two books are not about the same thing, they don't have the same tone or the same characters or the same questions or the same answers. The only thing they have in common is their genre: contemporary YA. By comparing them, you're saying that all contemporary YA novels and movies are derivative and in competition with each other, which they are not.
  2. "If I Stay is an effort to capitalize on the same audience as TFiOS." Um, so basically this "second" point of yours is the same thing as the first, only now you're affronted by the fact that the movie studio wants you to see this movie if you liked TFiOS. Here's the thing: they also want you to see it if you didn't like TFiOS. They want you to see it if you didn't even see TFiOS. You also seem upset by the fact that the movie wants you to cry, but didn't pack enough punch for you as "OK? OK," or whatever.  [By the way, it's not "OK"; it's OKAY. Get it straight.] But you know what? That's a subjective opinion. I don't give a monkey's toenail about "Okay? Okay," but I sure as hell got all sore-throat trying-and-failing-not-to-cry over "You still have a family, Mia." You're angry that the movie didn't have the same effect for you that TFiOS had, fine. But that's your fault, because you went in with the wrong expectations. Maybe you should have read the book first.
  3. "If I Stay's romance is shaped by a particular kind of wish fulfillment" Aren't all romances,

    fictional or not? Because that's what romance is: wish fulfillment. If the person you're with isn't fulfilling your wishes, why would you be with them? If you're attracted to someone, or have chemistry with someone, or are in love with someone, it's all wish fulfillment. If they're not who you want or need them to be, the romance is not there. It does not exist. What you have instead is tension. Tension between the characters who realize that something isn't working— which is what happens when Mia might be leaving Adam to go to Juilliard. He doesn't get mad at her because she might be moving; he gets mad at her because she lied to him about it. She didn't tell him, and it's something that affects his life too. They're supposed to be in this together, and she completely shut him out. So yeah, he acts like a jerk for a second. He's a teenager. First you complain about wish fulfillment and then you complain when Adam has a realistic reaction to something that upset him. He is not Augustus Waters; his moment of weakness was never going to be the part where he sits in a gas station parking lot in the middle of the night, crying because he couldn't do one simple thing for himself. If I Stay is more about relationships than people; sure, all of the characters have their own crap that they're dealing with (I, for one, loved that they gave Adam more family backstory in the movie), but the central focus when it comes to Adam is that he and Mia are in love with each other but it might not work out anyway. It's about how inconvenient it is to fall in love and stay that way when you're 17 years old and your dreams are taking you in different directions. Functionally, their relationship could not be perfect all the time. It wouldn't have made sense. Mia had to deal with this whether or not there was a life-or-death scenario involved— Adam even says it, in both the movie and the book, when he realizes that if Mia gets into Juilliard, her decision is already made. She has to go. The issue is wrestled with completely separately from the ramifications of the car accident; Adam came to terms with the possibility of a long-distance relationship, even if he wasn't happy about it, long before he learned that Mia was in the hospital.
  4. "Mia's mom and dad, unexpectedly, turn out to be the most charming part of the movie." Yeah, so? I think your complaint here is that the "Family Ties element" of their relationship with Mia "gets funneled into Mia's constant feelings of self-doubt." I keep trying to make sense of that so-called sentence, honestly I do, but it seems to be mostly just words arranged in what you think is an appealing way. Mia's relationship with her parents is fantastic; that's the whole point of the whole book. She feels insecure because she's not like them and she wishes she were— but that doesn't mean she thinks they don't love her. In no way does her self-doubt overshadow her relationship with her parents or make it less important, because if it did that, there would be no story. Her parents encouraged her to go out with Adam not because they liked him and wanted him to be their new son, but because they could see that Mia liked him, and they didn't want her to be afraid of him. "She shouldn't be afraid to hang out with those guys; they're us," her mom said. They simply pointed out that Mia had been hanging out with people like Adam her entire life.
  5. "And why is Mia so plagued with doubts?" You know what? This paragraph doesn't deserve a response. All this paragraph does is complain about the female protagonist and how passive and boring she is, never mind the source material. Never mind that the character herself is actually witty and talented and loyal and fighting for her life. How dare Mia be insecure, even though you've just listed every single thing that's wrong with her? How dare she agree with you about herself? But I'm sure that if she were less "passive" (you know, while she's IN A COMA) and had more confidence, the problem would be that she was too unrelatable like Katniss or too headstrong like Clary or too annoying like every other female character ever. I'm done.
  6. Blah blah blah death is not a choice blah blah milquetoast blah blah why does she need encouragement to live when the most important people in her life are dead? I'm rolling my eyes so hard right now. We get it. You hate Mia. You hate the idea that people can choose whether they live or die— which, just to be clear, is an idea that the book refutes, understanding that people like Mia's parents would never have chosen death— and you hate that someone with such a good life still ahead of her would consider giving up. But those are your opinions, not incontrovertible facts. The book is written in first-person for a reason: it puts us in Mia's shoes. We see everything from her perspective, and we know why she might choose to go. She's unsure about whether her relationship with Adam will last; she doesn't know yet if she got into Juilliard; and her family, her main source of encouragement and love, is suddenly gone, ripped out of her life so suddenly and heartbreakingly. They've always been the ones helping her decide what to do, because that was their job and they were good at it, and they're not around anymore. She doesn't know what life looks like without them and she isn't sure she wants to. So yeah, she needs to be encouraged to live. I would too.
  7. "If I Stay turns out to be the ultimate they'll-miss-me-when-I'm-gone fantasy." No?????? It
    doesn't??????? This story is not about Mia sitting around and watching everyone cry over her while she laughs maniacally from beside her comatose body. It's not about her self-pity and it's definitely not about spite— she has no one to spite. Not once in the entire movie (or book) is she happy to see these people crying and pleading with her to live, telling her how much they need her. The story is about how much she needs them. Adam didn't "run frantically back to her side, apologizing for being a jerk." He apologized to her, as I said before, long before she was in a hospital bed, and he ran frantically back to her side because he wanted to see her. I'm sorry you don't understand how love works, but Adam didn't promise to move to New York because he wanted Mia to open her eyes; he promised because he wanted her to know she had a future. The car accident that killed Mia's family did not win her anything, and how dare you imply that it did. Yes, the movie makes it seem like she won the fight with Adam, but she didn't. She didn't even stay for Adam. Aside from the fact that (spoiler) they break up after the first book/movie ends, the fight was never about whether Adam would come to live with Mia in New York. It was about whether their relationship could survive their divergent paths. That fight doesn't end just by virtue of their living in the same city.
All of this is not to say that I didn't have problems with the If I Stay movie, especially when it comes to the things they changed from the books. Adam was not supposed to promise to come with Mia, he was supposed to promise to let her go. That was important to me. But these problems that supposedly make it upsetting for the "wrong reasons"? Judgmental, subjective, and wrong.