The Movie Waffler New Release Review - How I Live Now | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - How I Live Now

An American teen is caught up in a war while visiting her cousins in England.

Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor

At some point following her mother's death, sixteen-year-old New Yorker Daisy (Ronan) is sent, much to her annoyance, to spend the summer with her cousins in a rural part of Northern England. Obsessed with superficial things, at first Daisy goes out of her way not to fit in. Gradually, however, she begins to warm to the rural way of life and falls in love with her cousin Eddie (MacKay), who seems to possess psychic powers that allow him to communicate with animals and read Daisy's thoughts. When war, brought on by an attack on London by an enemy referred to only as "terrorists", breaks out, Daisy and her cousins find themselves left alone on the farm and must fend for themselves.
I love ambiguity in films; it's always nice to leave a movie with questions. Of course, it depends on the nature of the questions you find yourself asking. If you can't help wonder what might have happened to the characters after the events of the film, that's a good thing, as it means the film-makers actually made you care about those characters. If, however, you're racking your brain trying to figure out nonsensical plot-holes, that's far from a good thing. 'How I Live Now', adapted from a popular young adult novel by author Meg Rosoff, leaves you, to varying degrees, asking both types of questions.
The screenplay was worked on by no less than four writers, including the acclaimed Tony Grisoni ('Southcliffe', 'The Red Riding Trilogy') and Jeremy Brock ('The Last King of Scotland', 'Brideshead Revisted'), which makes the amount of confusing and unanswered plot points here baffling. Throughout the movie, I found myself scratching my head every few minutes as I encountered a stream of nonsensical plot beats. Why are so many adults dead? Has there already been a prior war in Europe? Why doesn't Daisy find Eddie's psychic abilities unusual? Through a bit of research I've found that the source novel tackles these issues so it seems the writers are presuming anyone bothered to watch the film is already familiar with the book. That's one hell of a presumption to make and it's one that's ultimately detrimental to the movie.
Despite the baffling nature of the plot, there's enough in MacDonald's film to keep you interested. It may feature youthful characters but 'How I Live Now' is very much adult in nature, presenting us with such dark themes as consensual incest, fascism and the deaths of several young people. The portrayal of a near future fascist Britain is reminiscent of Alfonso Cuaron's 'Children of Men' and quite chilling at times.
After a string of misfires ('The Lovely Bones', 'Hanna', 'The Host'), Ronan seems to be finally finding her feet with another impressive performance following on from her great work in Neil Jordan's under-appreciated 'Byzantium'.
If you're familiar with the source material, you'll likely get a lot more out of MacDonald's adaptation than casual viewers but I believe a film should stand on its own. For this reason, 'How I Live Now' is a reluctant recommend.

Eric Hillis