How I Live Now
Films based on Young Adult novels are running rampant these days, and most of them are big budget blockbusters. Most of them are also big commercial successes, or at least that’s how it seems. With How I Live Now, we have the refreshing concept of having Meg Rosoff’s acclaimed novel being transferred to the big screen on a slightly smaller scale by ‘Last King of Scotland’ director Kevin McDonald.
Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), a young American girl arrives in England to visit her Aunt and cousins, in the midst of a potential World War 3 threat. Her attitude and own personal issues make it difficult for her to fit in, but she finds comfort in the oldest male, Eddie (George MacKay), and the two fall for each other immediately. As their love takes off, a nuclear detonation triggers a world war, and the two are separated. They must rely on their love, and instincts to survive and return home.
Immediately once the film starts you can sense that it is a Kevin McDonald film, and that is a good thing. It has his subtle stamp on it, and I could sense immediately that this would be a very different experience from a Hunger Games or a Divergent. It wasn’t full of heartthrobs and incredibly attractive future superstars. It is clearly attempting to really, genuinely match the source material as best as you can on film. From the young actors to the surroundings, I got a good feeling as I began watching the film.
The first thing that jumped out in a negative light for me though, was that I didn’t love the first 20 minutes of Saoirse Ronan’s performance at all. It was far, far too cliché grumpy teenage girl for me. The type of thing you see in a sitcom or family drama television show. Obviously I know what they were going for, but it just didn’t seem natural or plausible. However, once we get past that early portion of the film the young Ronan’s performance becomes fantastic, as she begins to act a bit more natural. I thought that after that little blip, all of the young actors were really incredible, particularly Tom Holland. George MacKay was a little off as Daisy’s love interest Eddie, but he had some tough writing to content with I think.
The first half of the film is mostly development and at times is great, but the problem I had with it was simply that they tried to cram a lot of character development into very little time, without letting us see the development. One minute Daisy is there, and hates her life and the next her and Eddie are in love. I don’t mind them falling in love but I didn’t actually see it happen. It just did apparently. Plus, on a side note, the fact that they are cousins I found a bit off putting but that’s not the film maker’s issue.
However, once the war begins and the action takes off, the film was at its best. If you can imagine a scenario, as a young teenager, where there are no parents around to help and you’re thrust into the middle of a war, I am sure you’d imagine it something like How I Live Now does. It is incredibly realistic and believable how the events unfold, and the moments of brief shock and violence are extremely jarring and unflinching in their presentation. This is no happy fairytale for the whole family to enjoy at all. It is quite disturbing at times, and it’s daring but realistic portrayal of war at home is its biggest strength.
It’s weakness for me was the love angle, since I found it underdeveloped, but it still hits some emotional notes. Not quite as much as the dynamic between the young cousins however, and although this isn’t the focus for most teenagers who will watch it, it was what really touched me. As did the slow development of Daisy from a fearful, worrisome teenager who masks her worry with a bad attitude into a strong, hardnosed woman who will do what needs to be done to get home, and makes this a priority over all else. This is where Ronan really struts her stuff.
I went into this film with mild interest and some fairly high hopes, and therefore it was put in a tough spot. Some parts in the early stages threatened to unhinge the proceedings, and I feared that it wouldn’t be what I had hoped. However, the second half of the film is fill of gritty realism, great acting, strong war time representation and some jarring moments of violence and suspense. This really brought the film home and showed Kevin McDonald’s strength as a filmmaker. A strong adaptation of the novel, well worth a watch.