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Us Brits love to come up with scenarios where social order collapses and thinking of ways to destroy the country. Now, it has been combined with the popular Young Adult genre with the adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s novel How I Live Now, leading to a very eclectic movie.
Elizabeth, who prefers to be called Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is an American teenager with obsessive compulsive disorder and a hostile personality who is sent to the English Countryside to spend the summer with her extended family. Daisy slowly falls for her cousin, Eddie (George MacKay) but their relationship is interrupted when terrorists attack London with a nuclear bomb and World War III erupts.
As always, Ronan gives a terrific performance in the role, being believable in her role as the sloppy rock chick with tons of personal baggage and is tough as a walnut to try and open up. She shows her range as her moments with Eddie are tender, to the look of fear and terror on her face as she battles to survive and having to be one of the leaders of her family when the crisis happens. She shows once again why she is one of the best actors of her generation.
Though Ronan was fantastic in the lead role, How I Live Now is a mess of a movie, unable to decide on a tone or a genre. The movie wants to be a teenage drama/romance and a war drama hybrid, but it comes across as trying to do everything it can, having elements of dystopia fiction and a post-apocalyptical survival tale in the middle of the romance: ignoring the issue that the lovers are related to each other. It is an amalgamation of movies like Children of Men, The Road, The Hunger Games series and 28 Days Later, all superior movies.
Kevin Macdonald is a talented director, making movies like The Last King of Scotland, State of Play and Touching the Void, but here he is hampered by a poor screenplay and his own decisions. How I Live Now starts as a teen drama light hearted in tone with the chaotic rural home and Daisy being driven to the airport by her 14-year-old cousin; an idiotic way to start the movie. The romance is cheesy and sappy as the children live an idyllic lifestyle in countryside away from civilization. Then on the other side, there is the dark war movie where the children are split up, turned into forced labor for the war effort, there is a high body count and a group of captured women getting raped.
How I Live Now is clearly aimed at teenagers due to its teen love story and the age of the characters, but it earned an R-rating in the US and a 15 in the UK as there is swearing and violence. There are plenty of uses of the F-word and even one use of the C-word and there is an authenticity with Daisy acting out due to her troubled nature: but it prevents the intended audience from being able to see the movie.
How I Live Now reminded me of a low-budget British movie I saw at university, Powerless, and that was because a fellow student was related to the director. How I Live Now and Powerless are both set in a remote, rural area of the UK, the main protagonist having to battle their personal demons, a terrorist attack in London that causes havoc across the country and the children of the family having to fend for themselves when the power fails. From a completely objective opinion Powerless is the better movie from a narrative start point, being much more focused and streamlined narratively.
I love dystopia fiction, post-apocalyptical stories and the darker and grimmer directional approach and even I was disappointed by the movie. There were some excellently directed sequences in the second half of the movie, but it was never able to balance its tone or its the intended audience, too adult for teens but too young for adults. Due to the scattergun approach to its genre, How I Live Now would have worked better as a TV mini-series.