Review: How I Live Now
PLOT: In a world on the brink of war, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is sent to live with her cousins in the English countryside. There, she meets and falls in love with Edmond (George MacKay) a quiet, introverted boy. Their idyllic existence is shattered after a nuclear attack on London plunges the country into a violent war, with Daisy somehow escaping the military and making a violent pilgrimage back to Edmond's home, where she believes he is waiting for her.
REVIEW: HOW I LIVE NOW is a strange film. For the first forty-five minutes, Kevin Macdonald's adaptation of the Meg Rosoff young adult novel feels like another TWILIGHT. It's got two attractive teens experiencing idyllic first love, all while set to a hip indie rock soundtrack. To be frank, I was bored witless, although the visuals were pretty (courtesy of DP Franz Lustig) and the two lead actors, Ronan and MacKay were excellent.
But then something really weird happens. After the nuclear attack on London, HOW I LIVE NOW suddenly switches gears and becomes a hard-core, R-rated war movie. Ronan's character (along with her young cousin) are separated from the boys (McKay, as well as THE IMPOSSIBLE's breakout star Tom Holland) and put into a civilian volunteer group, where they're essentially enslaved by the army, and subject to frequent, violent attacks by insurgents. This section was a bit of the dystopian vibe of THE HUNGER GAMES, albeit far grittier, and from there the movie only gets darker.
The main chunk of the film finds Ronan on a cross-country trek with her cousin, where they run into all manner of villainy, including killers, rapists, and more. It gets pretty gruesome, with Ronan at one point observing a horrific gang-rape. It's pretty odd that a film could start-off like TWILIGHT, and suddenly turn into a kind of teen version of THE ROAD.
Which makes me wonder who the audience is for HOW I LIVE NOW? Commercially this seems like a dodgy prospect. The tweens will totally be thrown for a loop by the hard-core violence (it's already landed a hard-R MPAA rating) and grimness of the tale. At the same time, adult audiences will find the tween-romance opening difficult to sit through, as it really does feel like something left over from any number of recent YA adaptations.
I imagine Macdonald's goal here was to put you at ease, and pull the rug out from under you with the sudden tonal switch, and while I'm sure that worked well on the page, on the big screen it's more off-putting than effective. However, it can't be denied that it's a ballsy gamble, and while the fist half tested my patience, the last hour is pretty damn great.
Ronan's always been one of the best young actresses out there. After a setback with the execrable THE HOST, she once again has a part she can sink her teeth into. She makes Daisy's transition from spoiled teen to hardened survivor convincing. There is one problem though. Like most teen romances, the relationship between her and McKay never really seems like anything more than teen infatuation and lust, and I'm not sure their supposed star-crossed love is conveyed too well. This is especially true due to the fact that McKay is virtually absent from the second half of the film, other than scattered appearances in Ronan's dreams. There are also hints he's psychic or has some weird healing abilities, but this is never addressed outside the first twenty minutes. Weird.
HOW I LIVE NOW really is a mixed bag, with it essentially being two movies in one; one of them bad, the other good. Luckily, what's bad isn't horrifically so, and what's good is great. While I still think tweens will be put off by it, it's an intriguing film for those of us that have fantasized about what would happen to wimpy TWILIGHT style characters if suddenly they were plunged into an ultra-violent, dark world. That is kinda like what happens here. It's strange but interesting.
|Extra Tidbit:||HOW I LIVE NOW was originally reviewed as part of our TIFF 2013 coverage.|