CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay, Harley Bird, Anna Chancellor, Corey Johnson
RUNNING TIME: 101 mins
BASICALLY…: During American teen Daisy’s (Ronan) visit to her cousin’s house in England, a third World War breaks out and the children are forced to survive…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
As a result of the onslaught of young adult fiction adaptations, Kevin Macdonald has taken a particularly challenging example and adapted it into almost something of an antithesis of YA adaptations. But while How I Live Now does some things right, it also has a lot of serious drawbacks that ultimately don’t work.
The first half of the movie, which focuses on Saoirse Ronan’s Daisy and her bonding with her distant cousins, is drawn out very well. Even when the fictional Third World War begins with a chilling scene set in a field amidst a happy scene with the cousins, the focus is firmly kept on them rather than the escalating international situation. Within this first half, Daisy is given a Scrooge story arc from being a sullen, borderline-pretentious teen to a much happier – though not by much – person, even engaging in a romantic relationship with older cousin Edmond, played by George MacKay. As incestuous as that may come across to some members of the audience, and nearly far-fetched as neither Ronan nor MacKay – as good as both are in the roles – seems to emit any real chemistry between each other, it oddly feels complete in and of itself, almost like a different movie. If the film kept to this particular angle, we would have something of an effective teen drama amidst a sort-of nuclear holocaust. Think When The Wind Blows with much younger people involved, and you have the image.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t keep to this angle and as soon as some obnoxiously aggressive soldiers separate them, it becomes this bleak and significantly lesser second act. After an interesting set-up that could have gone somewhere fascinating, we’re suddenly shifted to a scenario where Daisy and youngest cousin Piper (Harley Bird) are relocated to a secluded war colony. They soon run away from the compound and make their way back to their home in the countryside. Following from there, the rest of the film is basically an extended montage of these two young girls making their way through the forests, encountering and avoiding several dangers and having arguments with each other that are quickly resolved, all while taking in the spoils of war around them. And boy, does it get old fast.
It’s as if this second half of the movie relied heavily on the dull, repetitive and needlessly over-drawn nature of these scenes, as well as borrowed plot threads from 28 Days Later, Children of Men, Cold Mountain and others. These scenes would be fine if they added to the characters of Daisy and Piper, the former especially seeing as she is the one who goes through some of the biggest personality changes. But again, her Scrooge story arc was pretty much complete during the first half so there’s nothing really new or important to add here. Also, with Piper, there was never much to her character aside from being the happy and bubbly free-spirit child who Daisy bonds with. Very little of what happens during this part of the movie feels like it made a major impact on the girls by film’s end, and all we’re left with is just a dark and dull trek through the woods.
In addition, most scenes that could have proven to be genuine obstacles are quickly tossed aside and lead the film absolutely nowhere. At one point, they encounter a small group of invading terrorists who have captive a group of raped and abused women, but the girls quickly escape and never mention it again. A later scene with two odd Scottish men who try to capture Piper is also quickly forgotten as quickly as it came up. The first half of the film is guilty of this as well, with Edmond supposedly communicating via psychic telepathy with a herd of cows which causes them to all mysteriously trot away. Any queries of how he was able to do that, and any possibility of elaborating further on this strange, out-of-place psychic ability is literally shrugged off. Just put him alongside Carrie White, Cole Sear, Danny Torrance et al as yet another young person in a movie with unexplained psychic powers.
It’s sad because you feel like How I Live Now is really trying to do something with itself, but it ultimately doesn’t come off as strong as it wants to. There is definite effort, but it ultimately feels a little flat.
SO, TO SUM UP…
How I Live Now is boosted by a strong performance from Ronan and some ambitious direction, but it falters with its misguided second half and unconfident messages. Effort was put into it, but the results are only slight in the end.