Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay
Genre: Drama/ Thriller
An uptight American girl named Daisy (Ronan) who has voices in her head and takes pills for those and all the anxieties she suffers flies to England to stay with her Auntie (Anna Chancellor). There she meets her three cousins and due to her naturally antisocial closed personality wants very little to do with them. However, an undeniable attraction to Eddie (MacKay), her oldest cousin brings her out of her shell as she gets closer to all of them. After her Auntie leaves them to travel to Switzerland, a nuclear bomb attack on London produces a new World War. Now alone, the four of them try to survive on their own, with Daisy turning down the chance to return to America, but they are found by soldiers and males and females forced to separate. Now Daisy and youngest cousin Piper (Hayley Bird) are working in a vegetable farm and living with an elderly couple who are complete strangers, but through dreams and the voices in her head she knows that Eddie is back at the old house waiting for her. Daisy then plans to leave with Piper and travel across a treacherous war torn England to be reunited with the man she loves.
Sounds like a bit of a strange genre mash-up doesn’t it? That for me is the main problem for me with Kevin Macdonald’s adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s novel. It is a film that contains some interesting and potential powerful ideas, but like a ‘Jack of all trades’ just struggles to master any of them producing a watchable but often unsatisfying film. The central themes and character arc of Daisy are pretty straight forward, but yet all seem underdeveloped. The telepathic nature of her (slightly incestuous) relationship with Edmund may serve as a metaphor, but it feels clichéd and contrived, never truly packing the emotional punch that it should considering it is what drives the narrative forward.
The main fault does seem to be the script written by four different people not including the novelist (too many cooks spoiling that broth perhaps?) as it maybe tries to cram too much into the 100 minute running time with most elements feeling underdeveloped. Though of course it is possible budget constraints may have played a part in that.
This is not to say How I Live Now is a bad film, Kevin Macdonald is a very competent film maker and from a technical point of view How I Live Now is very well made. Once Daisy embarks on her journey home there is a real sense of atmosphere and tension from the seemingly idyllic landscape and the plot does contain some genuinely emotional moments.
Likewise Saoirse Ronan is a very talented actress and gives a great performance as the complex protagonist who simply contains the flaws and imperfections personality wise that we all do to emerge as a sympathetic protagonist. Likewise George MacKay gives an effectively brooding but good hearted performance as Eddie. The final third of How I Live Now emerges as the most engaging, but once again despite some genuinely powerful moments the narrative feels a little too contrived and underdeveloped.
Competently made and acted, but lacking conviction in terms of its storytelling. How I Live Now is certainly watchable but emerges as a case of wasted potential that tries too hard to be so many things but in the process confuses even itself.