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‘If I Stay,’ Indeed

These days, I thank my lucky stars – no matter how faulty – for Young Adult film adaptations. They are the last bastion of the big Hollywood weepie, a film genre that is sorely needed, if only so the average American can permit him- or herself to cry from time to time. Of course, the best weepies are so high-quality that we don’t feel embarrassed after we’ve dried our tears – think It’s a Wonderful Life, Gone with the Wind, and Terms of Endearment. Even E.T. is a well-crafted weepie in its own way.

If I Stay, the adaptation of Gayle Forman’s 2009 best-selling YA novel, is not. For long stretches, it seems like a TV pilot for a WB show that, rightfully, did not get picked up. Nonetheless, it evokes a cacophony of strong emotions – even at the critics’ screening I attended, much sniffing and nose-blowing could be heard – and for that reason cannot be dismissed out of hand. At least, not in this decidedly ungolden era of tough-guy cinema, in which action pics rule the multiplex and emotionality has been utterly ghettoized to Indiewood. Continue Reading →

Stieg Larsson with the Dragon Tattoo

It’s been 10 years since Stieg Larsson’s untimely passing, and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo author would have turned 60 last week had he lived. But while the world would be a better place if he had, the mythology of his own story – especially the fact that he died of a heart attack before the first volume of his best-selling trilogy was published – has only heightened the international impact of his blazingly anti-imperialist and pro-feminist thrillers. Given that he dedicated his life to exposing the violence, racism, and right-wing extremism lurking in his seemingly liberal home country of Sweden, I suspect he’d have considered his early demise a worthy sacrifice. In fact, he may even have anticipated it.

Certainly he packed an impressive amount of living into his fifty-year tenure on earth. Born in a Northern Sweden mining town, Stieg was raised by his grandparents after his father contracted arsenic poisoning from working at the local smelting plant. When his grandfather died at fifty of a heart attack (sound familiar?), Stieg joined his parents in the bigger city of Umeå, whose urban inequities incensed him even at the ripe old age of nine. At age fifteen, he witnessed a gang rape without intervening. Though he eventually asked the victim for her forgiveness, she refused. And thus are the makings of an anti-establishment literary superhero.

We could argue that everyone’s adulthood is a response to their seminal years but it seems particularly true of Larsson: The rape victim’s name was reportedly Lisbeth, which is the name he gave to the powerful, and powerfully broken, heroine of his best-selling novels; the original title for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women; and he worked as a radical journalist and activist who trained female guerrillas in weaponry skills while he wrote novels at night. But it is those novels he wrote to unwind that have most avenged his early experiences. The Girl trilogy made him (posthumously) one of the most best-selling authors of the Aughts – which means that millions upon millions of people have hung on every word of the adventures of a punk-rock, anti-social, bisexual, survivor-savant, law-breaking woman warrior. Continue Reading →

‘The Giver’ Taketh Away

Anyone familiar with Lois Lowry’s beloved children’s novel The Giver knows that one of its key tenets is precise language. So I’m going to phrase the next sentence as precisely as possible: This movie adaption does not live up to the book. In fact, this movie adaptation is so bland that it makes the chief inspiration for such young adult sci-fi dystopias as The Hunger Games and Divergent seem like a shoddy knockoff.

Part of the film’s problem may be timing. Jeff Bridges, who both stars as the eponymous Giver and is credited as a producer, began trying to adapt Lowry’s subtle, smart indictment of totalitarian societies (including, arguably, our own) almost as soon as it was published in 1993. But back then, everyone from possible financiers to Lowry herself resisted. In the intervening years, it influenced an entire industry of young adult books and subsequent movie franchises, which in turn boasted massive followings, Hollywood budgets, and, yes, talent – not to mention bad-ass female heroines, which The Giver itself sorely lacks. By the time Bridges finally managed to get this film project together, the ground beneath it had shifted seismically. And perhaps its foundation just wasn’t strong enough to withstand such changes. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy