Talking Movies

October 4, 2013

How I Live Now

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Saoirse Ronan impresses as a sullen teenager facing up to WWIII, but worryingly once again her performance is better than the film that contains it.

Caustic American teenager Daisy (Ronan) arrives in Britain, travelling as an unaccompanied minor. Well, unaccompanied except for the competing voices of self-help mantras and hyper-critical judgements in her head. She is collected from the airport by her English cousin Isaac (Tom Holland) illegally driving a Range Rover home to their isolated farm where Daisy meets Piper (Harley Bird), who’s frightfully excited at having a substitute big sister, and neighbour Joe (Danny McEvoy), who prefers their home to his abusive father’s. Daisy swoons over a dishy falconer (George MacKay), glimpsed as they drive past him, only to discover that he’s her cousin George. Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) is distracted by government worries over possible terrorist attacks and so Daisy has to adjust to her cousins’ irritatingly bohemian lifestyle. But by the time apocalypse comes proceedings are all very early Ian McEwen…

How I Live Now is a very well made film. Last King of Scotland director Kevin McDonald gets very natural performances from the child actors even as his oblique portrayal of nuclear apocalypse gets increasingly brutal. Some of his visuals are simply stunning. The detonation of a bomb in London sees the shockwave preceded by a tsunami-like moment of eerie calm and atmospheric reverse and then a magical fall of snow as the sky darkens. And driving thru the deserted motorways of England recalls 28 Days Later, as do the brutal eruptions of violence in rural camps and an extended suspense sequence when Daisy and Piper investigate a deserted army base for signs of what happened. However the lack of detail grates when you’re expected to swallow not just nukes and poisoned reservoirs but, somehow, massive mobilised armies of terrorists.

Ronan edges slightly towards her role in Hanna towards the end, but, especially initially, she’s doing something new. She’s playing a far more abrasive character than any she’s essayed before and doing it very well. Indeed the film’s so good at upsetting audience expectations as to its genre that it’s a while before you notice that it’s gradually forgotten the hyper-critical voice in Daisy’s head that was presented as the key to her character in the opening act, and then sporadically later on; when planning her trek home. The most troubling element though is not the implication of possible inherited schizophrenia that is literally dispensed with when the shooting starts, but that we’re expected (even down to the tagline on posters) to root for Daisy to get home so that she can continue an incestuous relationship with her first cousin

How I Live Now is too solidly well made a film to not be given 3 stars but its central romantic motif makes it hard to truly like it.

3/5

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