Saturday, August 23, 2014

If I Stay [2014]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C-)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

As I watched, If I Stay [2014] (directed by R.J. Cutler, screenplay by Shauna Cross, based on the novel by Gayle Forman [Amzn] [IMDb]) my mind wandered in many directions, among them I thought of how both the publishing industry and the Catholic Church in the United States panders society with their uses of the apparently quite elastic term "young adults." 

When I was, IMHO _actually_ a young adult, that is, in my mid-20s, I thought that the Catholic Church had it right: Young Adulthood was a period when the schooling was basically done, when one was taking-up actual responsibilities (moving out on one's own, getting a real job, etc) and discerning one's true life direction (discerning who to marry or as in my case whether to enter into religious life).  In my day, it was actually rather "cool" to be a young adult, either in Los Angeles (where I was in went to grad school before I entered the Servites) or back in Chicago (where I was originally from).  Perhaps it was too cool, because since coming back to Chicago, I've found that a lot of formerly young adults of my generation continued meeting as "YOUNG ADULTS" even as it became increasingly difficult to justify the stretching of the definition to include "those under 35" and even "those under 40."  Don't get me wrong, I UNDERSTAND THE CAMARADERIE.  It was FUN being part of a Catholic Young Adult group when I was in my 20s.  IT REMAINS FUN BEING WITH THE SAME PEOPLE NOW THAT I'M 50.  Just please, let's be honest, we're NOT "young adults" any more and haven't been for a long long time.

So the reader here could appreciate my bemusement with the American Publishing industry's pandering its audience in the other direction.  LET'S BE HONEST, the American Publishing industry has redefined TEENS as "Young Adult Readers."  And let's also be honest about why this was done: Situations and subject matters that would seem _wildly inappropriate_ if clearly TARGETED TO TEENS (most of whom ARE MINORS!) become "possible" when the target audience is "redifined" as (wink, wink) "young adults."

Case and point with the story that plays-out in the current film based on a "Young Adult" novel.  The story is about a somewhat geeky, cello playing, teenage girl named Mia (played in the film by Chloë Grace Moretz) growing-up in Portland, Oregon, her parents being nice, salt of the earth, somewhat counter-culture-ish ex-hippy/punk/granola/grunge people (played by Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos).  She also had a younger brother, who didn't have a particularly large role in the story, except to round the family size to four.  The key shtick in the setup of the story was that Mia's parents were perhaps more open/liberal, certainly more extroverted than the shy, somewhat frightened, somewhat more conservative Mia herself.

Enter the one-year-older teenager from the same high school, Adam (played by Jamie Blackley), a guitarist in a small-time rock band who becomes Mia's love interest in the story. 

Now it would have been interesting actually to keep things honest.  Where would a seventeen year old rocker-to-be play?  The number of venues would have been limited to garages, perhaps a parish festival or two.  But that's kinda limiting to a story.  So his band is portrayed as more successful than would probably be expected.  And so his band is portrayed as playing in bars (again, at 17 ...).  Then, perhaps even more improbably, Mia's soon joining him (as Adam's girlfriend) in the bars as well.  IT'S ALL POSSIBLE but CERTAINLY FAR MORE COMPLICATED THAN PORTRAYED.

Then, honest portrayal of the romance between the rather shy, initially sophomore, later junior in high school Mia and her one year older boyfriend Adam would most likely be "rather boring."  So it too had to be ginned-up.  Thus we have a rather improbable scene in the film with Adam and Mia sharing presumably post-coital "sweet nothings" to each other, naked if covered, in Mia's bed in her home with presumably Mia's parents being somehow "cool with it."  Come on.  Imagine the dialogue: "Mom, Adam's here and we're going to go upstairs to do some math homework and then to make sweet love to each other before he goes home."  "Ok dears, have a nice time..." (WOULD ANYBODY IN THE U.S., EVEN TODAY, BELIEVE A SCENARIO LIKE THAT...?). 

Thus this is a young adult story that would work if the protagonists were college students or otherwise ACTUAL YOUNG ADULTS (in their 20s).  But as 15-17 year olds?  Come on.  And this then is the problem.

Okay, sure, there's plenty of other drama.  Mia's and her family have a terrible car accident and so forth.  But the fundamental setup of the story is simply not credible.

Finally, honestly parents, just because a book is labeled "Young Adult" does not mean that it is suitable FOR A TEEN.  The "Young Adult" label is a word-game ...

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