How I Live Now (2013)
December 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
(5/10) Watching ‘How I Live Now’, directed by Kevin MacDonald of ‘The Last King of Scotland’ fame, I recognize it’s a well-made film. It’s got sections of sharp and bold writing, sections of wonderful acting and plenty of interesting characters. However, the film relies upon heavily stylized and undulating themes (such as a muddled inner-voice for the lead) and revels in the taboo and the morose in much the same way romantic comedies revel in pratfalls and perfectly timed kisses.
Saoirse Ronan plays Daisy an American vacationing in England with distant cousins while the news vaguely hints at terrorist activity in the region. Her cousins live in the English countryside, where life is slow but idyllic with days spent playing in fields, swimming in streams and playing war in the trees with plastic toy guns. At first Daisy wants nothing to do with them, living inside her own head and rushing to take a pill at times because she seems to be hearing voices or can’t organize her thoughts (at least that’s what I gathered). The cousins are a rowdy brood of immature children and one older boy Isaac (Tom Holland) who is the closest thing to an adult in the group.
Normally I avoid spoilers, but wowzers.
For the first forty-five minutes we’re treated to a slow boiling awkward romance that blossoms between Daisy and Isaac, in which the ick-factor is acknowledged for precisely two seconds before they’re in full blown teenage romance mode. The film switches gears rather quickly, when all hell breaks loose and the country is plunged into war, with soldiers separating the group of kids into boys and girls: girls are sent off to work camps while the boys are being molded into soldiers to fight the invading armies. Daisy is given a choice to get out early on, because she is American, but apparently incest is so hot it’s worth fighting and maybe even dying for. Managing to escape and go on the run, she seeks to reunite her fractioned clan.
Each section takes a bit too long moving on to the next and none are satisfying. The film’s war sequences are depressing, slow and half-hearted (I think due to budgetary constraints) while the coming-of-age aspects of the film are rendered disturbing by Daisy’s blind lust for her cousin Isaac.
Holland, whose biggest role stateside was in last year’s little seen but superb epic ‘The Impossible’ about a family trying to survive the destruction and chaotic aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, is excellent, as is Ronan. However, the material is all over the map and not very satisfying in any particular section, which each seems to be attempting to cover a full genre in twenty minute chunks: teenage romance, war, road trip, apocalyptic sections and so on. It’s a casserole of half-baked themes that have been more deftly covered in far better stronger focused genre films.
Ronan makes for a superb lead, whether she’s getting down under the sheets or fighting for her life with blood, guts, bullets and octane. She is always the most impressive part of her films and ‘How I Live Now’ is no exception, but the controversial and underwhelming nature of the film makes it difficult to be mesmerized by her performance when you’re distracted by how muddily the story plays out.