How I Live Now Review
Before sitting down to watch “How I Live Now” yesterday afternoon, I did not know it was based upon a young adult novel by Meg Rosoff. I have recently discussed a somewhat over-saturation of genres in Hollywood, and I would place the “young-adult-novel-turned-movie” fad that is currently trending like wildfire on that list of genres being over-played in the movie business. I understand that these book collections have serious followings and good or bad, they tend to make bank, I detest the need adapt every single young adult novel into a movie. Much like the early days of Marvel, as well as fantasy in a post-“Lord of the Rings” world, these adaptations tend to sink more often than swim. Just because “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” made money and are immensely popular doesn’t mean Hollywood should just start greenlighting every adaptation script they receive, but that is the nature of this business and there are plenty more “Twilights” and “Divergent’s” to follow.
That is why I was shocked by what I saw in “How I Live Now,” this is what true adaptation looks like. Director Kevin McDonald created something with brooding atmosphere, but also created a deeply felt storyline with characters we cared about. These characters were brought to astounding life by an extraordinary cast of young British actors. I have been speaking the praises of Saoirse Ronan for many years now, and I am convinced she is going to be a big name within the next few years. She is somebody who I find on-par with Jennifer Lawrence, but she just doesn’t quite have the superstardom in this country yet, but I think if she keeps turning out performances as strong as this one, she will be soon. I am also delighted by the knowledge that she is just one highlight in an ocean of good decisions made by McDonald.
“How I Live Now” has a similar backdrop to most young adult novels right now, which is a world on the brink of disaster. The notion of a post-apocalyptic world is strong in this movie, but instead of making the backdrop thrilling and somewhat exciting like in “Hunger Games,” or “Divergent,” this movie paints it in a much different way. Kevin McDonald takes the audience by the face and smothers it in the ugliness of a world without order, a world where the government is crumbling and terrorists are everywhere, a world where mere children have to grow up in seconds or they will be dead in mere minutes. Not much of the film is thrilling and the sparks of violence in the film never feels like it was made for an action picture. A world in anarchy is shown in a very sad way and I liked the way McDonald captured this world. The cinematography Franz Lustig also advances the movie to bigger, greater heights.
Saoirse Ronan plays Daisy, and her father has shipped her to England to live with her extended family while the world is on the brink of a third world war. Daisy is the typical arrogant, rebellious teenager we see in movies: She is constantly listening to her Ipod, she is mean, she is ignorant, she is not open-minded about anything and she is completely mad at the world. That doesn’t seem to change when her cousins Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird) and Eddie (George MacKay) welcome her into their home. Isaac, Piper and Eddie are constantly trying to include Daisy in their daily activities and she always shoots them down. Eventually, she does give into their kind-hearts and finds that she actually likes them, and she is especially drawn to Eddie.
The first half of the film moves slow and has predictable footnotes at every turn. But once a nuke destroys London, and soldiers come and break the family up and it is up to Daisy and Piper to reconnect with the boys, things get bad quick. These kids grow up instantly in order to survive a world that has gone to Hell. Like I said above, Ronan gives an outstanding performance and I hope her work here doesn’t go overlooked come Oscar time. But I was also completely captivated by the work done by Tom Holland, Harley Bird and George MacKay. These are incredible young actors, and they transition with ease. There are some minor adult roles throughout the film, but these kids are unsupervised nearly the entire film and these actors are on-screen nearly the whole film. It is piercing, harrowing work by these young actors and they make everything in this film work.
I also mentioned that the film is slow at the beginning and it is a bit cliché-ridden. While that did bug me to a degree, I am not sure it could have been helped, and it helps the rest of the film become thematically sound. I was a little blown away by a particular romance that brewed in the film. Yes, this is a movie based on a young adult novel; of course here is love in the air. It just was not the love I intended to see, as Daisy begins to fall in love with her cousin Eddie. I am not sure how audiences can begin to find incest sweet or sincere. Maybe it is just me and maybe I need to actually read the book to understand if I missed something. All I can tell you is the romance is never sappy or “daytime soap-ish,” it always feels natural which is a good thing.
I am not sure if this film will spawn any sequels, but “How I Live Now” is an excellent example of bringing a young adult novel to life. It is rough around the edges and it is R-rated, but it is thematically sound with the film’s story and tone. This is a great highlight for these actors and a wonderful use of cinematic tools.
FINAL GRADE: B