Stream-It Saturday: Now Is Good

Stream-It Saturday: Now Is Good

It's always interesting to find a surprise book-to-movie adaptation. Damn studios and their name-changing ways. I added British flick Now Is Good to my Netflix queue after watching How I Live Now, because I was looking for more YA-ish movies from the UK. I thought that film took some risks you would be unlikely to see in American films.

Now Is Good - A Movie Based on Before I Die by Jenny Downham

When I finally got around to streaming Now Is Good, the story and characters' names seemed immediately familiar. A quick Google told me that I wasn't nuts, that Now Is Good is an adaptation of a book I'd forgotten I'd read, Before I Die by Jenny Downham. (I didn't forget I'd read it because it wasn't good, because it was. Rather, it was a long time ago.)

The short synopsis of both is that Tessa, a teenager in Brighton, has decided to forgo further treatment for her terminal leukemia. She and her friend create a bucket list of all kinds of things that she wants to achieve, including sex, drugs and petty theft. She meets Adam, the neighbor who's given up everything to care for his mother, and the two drifting teens have an intense love affair. Tessa's family of divorced parents and a younger brother also have to grapple with the reality of Tessa's mortality and her response to this situation, which is rarely easy for them.

This is an interesting adaptation because it's one that can definitely be enjoyed on its own (much like the The Fault in Our Stars movie), but I think is more captivating if you've read the book. While the story's trajectory and character arcs (generally) remain the same, you're not inside Tessa's head like in the book, and the more controversial elements of the book are greatly toned down. So, if you've read the book, it's an interesting intellectual exercise to contemplate the decisions the filmmakers made to make the story more comfortable for a mainstream audience.

In particular, I recall the Downham's novel being far more focused on Tessa and Adam's sexual relationship. (In fact, there are a lot of Goodreads reviews in which readers were offended by this plot element.) It's more implied than anything in the film, with the focus being on the messiness of the couple's guaranteed to be short relationship. Additionally, I clearly remember Tessa being more of a an asshole in the novel and Cal, her younger brother, being more wonderfully inappropriate than he is in the film. 

I realize that film needs to be more palatable to a broad audience than a book does. Movies are expensive to make, need get on screens and make a lot more money than a book does to break even. But I was disappointed that Now Is Good pulled some punches in the adaptation of a book that's purposefully discomforting in its authenticity.

(A notation exception in the YA adaptation world is The Spectacular Now, which translated the uncomfortable source material very well onto the big screen.)

However, what they really captured well was Tessa and Adam as well as Tessa's relationship with her parents. This is truly thanks to the really excellent cast.

I wasn't familiar with Jeremy Irvine, who plays Adam, prior to seeing Now Is Good (apparently he was in War Horse), but he's much more than a pretty face. He brought a lot of depth to a character that could have been bland in the hands of a less capable actor (like that dude who played Adam in the If I Stay movie, who has negative charisma, which I didn't realize was possible). Dakota Fanning is always excellent, and completely believable as Tessa, though maybe a smidgen too easy to sympathize with. And the actors who played Tessa's parents, especially Paddy Consadine as her father, were great in portraying these conflicted, flawed characters.

Have you read this book and seen the movie? What did you think of the adaptation?

Now Is Good is currently streaming on Netflix and also available on iTunes. 

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