Dr. Donna Copeland’s
SAOIRSE RONAN GEORGE MACKAY TOM HOLLAND HARLEY BIRD
HOW I LIVE NOW
'Less is more' would be the filmmaking theme in How I Live Now (a terrible title), the new film by Kevin MacDonald (The Last King of Scotland, State of Play). The film is based on Meg Rosoff’s singular novel, which is set in a real world future leading towards world war III. How I Live Now is essentially a very grown up children’s story about survival being encouraged and led by love of all things. If you step back, How I Live Now is a very simple story, mostly filled with walking through fields in the beginning and running in them near the end. The interesting concept here is telling a very large scale story so minimally with such great affect.
Visiting her aunt and step-cousins for the summer, spoiled American Daisy (Ronan) is determined not to have any fun in the English countryside until she meets the older cousin Edmond (MacKay) and develops a crush. Shortly after her aunt is called away to Geneva on U.N. business, the four kids hear a large explosion nearby in London as the sky begins to rain ash. The world’s worst fear has come true--a nuclear device has been dropped. Daisy turns down her chance to be taken back to America when a government official stops by, and eventually the group is separated based on gender. Daisy and Piper (Bird) try to make their way back through the rubble and danger to see their family once again.
My biggest quam about How I Live Now is the casting of Ronan; it isn’t the fact that she doesn’t perform well here, because she does. It’s more a problem with the similar roles she has taken for the past few years. From The Host, Byzantium, The Way Back and especially Hanna, it’s as if she will only play strong females who in some way carry the weight and fate of the world, or at least her world. At only 19, the Oscar nominated actress has accomplished so much and found herself cast in the lead of most films. There is no denying that she is extremely talented and dedicated to her craft, I would just like to see her step out of this wonder woman type cycle she is in because it’s exactly the same here.
Comparing How I Live Now to Ronan’s previous futuristic film The Host, which was all about high budgets, special effects and a ridiculous story, this film is the polar opposite about building a story on performances and a smaller scale and having it come across on screen as very large. Very few of the scenes take place outside the woods or the small house used in the film. It’s a credit to the filmmaking team on their editing, cinematography and creativity to make this simple film feel so encompassing. There are certainly holes in the script that allow the story to focus on the romantic bit, but overall it’s a fairly suspenseful and entertaining film.
Final Thought – Impressively proves less can be much more.
By: Dustin Chase
How I Live Now begins with a sullen, ill-mannered teenaged American, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), arriving at the London airport being met by her chipper 14 year-old cousin Isaac (Tom Holland). She is horrified to find that he will drive her to her aunt’s house, where she will stay during a threatened outbreak of World War III in the 21st Century. The aunt is not home, but the cousins warmly welcome Daisy, and are patient with her rebuffs. She spends time alone in her room awaiting a call from her father, which never comes.
The film is scant on details and history, so this beginning is a bit confusing. It takes Daisy some time to even begin to warm up, although she has an immediate interest in the older cousin Edmond (George MacKay), a rather taciturn young man who seems to have extrasensory perception, including extraordinary hearing. When the aunt finally arrives home, it is clear that she is involved in national security and that there is something major afoot. We’re not told exactly what, but after the aunt leaves for an emergency meeting in Switzerland, soldiers attack the home, which is on a large piece of land in the country, with rolling hills, forests, and streams nearby. The children are forced to evacuate, although they are protesting vociferously, and the girls and boys are sent to separate locations. By this time, Daisy and Edmond have developed a close alliance, and each is determined to make their way back home as soon as possible
The power is out, and the enemy has contaminated the water, so resources are scarce. Much of the rest of the story is about Daisy and the younger girl, Piper (Harley Bird) escaping the home they’ve been placed in, and trying to make their way back on foot. The point of the story is to illustrate how all the events change Daisy, and give meaning to the title of the film, How I Live Now.
I think the film could have been much improved by more explanation of the major events taking place in the larger context. We learn nothing about the reasons why Daisy is sent to Great Britain, or what the war is about or who is involved. Also puzzling is the broadcast of Daisy’s disconnected inner thoughts in the beginning, which have ceased by the end of the story. I presume it is supposed to convey her troubled mind, but it would have been much better to be more explicit. The 2004 novel with the same title on which the film is based, won a number of prizes, so perhaps it was better constructed than the film, directed by Kevin Macdonald.
An interesting but not an especially well made film.