How I Live Now Reviews
Good movie! Despite its genre, the movie was actually remarkably artistic not just in the beautiful countryside that is so tragically spoilt by the outbreak of a massive global conflict, but also in its portrayal of the nature of war. Notably, the enemy is not identified once, beyond the fact that they are "terrorists." Our only interactions with them in the movie could imply that they are anarchists, but this is mere speculation. And it is not told from the military point of view, who might be used to threats like this, but rather from the point of view of the civilians, whose lives have been torn apart. One must ignore all the questions to watch this movie. If you don't think about it, Saoirse Roanan puts in a very compelling performance. She is the best thing in this. Though certainly not the best film out there, it surely isn't the worst. If you are a fan of Ronan you will be slightly disappointed, but not so much that you feel like it may be time to turn your back on her. This film just suffers from trying to do too much at once and it just doesn't coordinate well in the long run. Plus, if you have seen other films which balance having a plot with romance and war, this film looks even worse. Still though, I think this is worth TV viewing, or watching OnDemand, when you're bored on a Sunday and have nothing better to watch.
An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her.
The premise is reminiscent of Takahata's "Grave of the Fireflies" where innocence and bliss struggles through the woes of war and ultimately, that of reality. They're popular clashing themes for a reason, providing plenty of rich contrast.
I really loved the story and Ronan delivers quite the performance carrying the film on her shoulders but the movie suffers significantly from Macdonald's inability to establish the "cousin-fun-time-utopia" that Daisy strives for once the ashes have fallen. Her shift from apathetic teenager to blissful romantic comes off forced, making the motivations behind her journey somewhat contrive and even cheapening the conclusive ending.
Directed by Kevin McDonald the film looks great and has a nice sense of pastoral elegance about it, with the beautiful British countryside being the backdrop to both love and death, joy and pain, beauty and horror. However McDonald is unable to shift tone elegantly as he's able to capture the beauty of the countryside. Becoming a prominent issue when tones jarringly shift from being sad and broody quickly turning into cheesy and dull without without warning. The cast are all good, especially the star of the show Saoirse Ronan, who has been carving a niche for herself as special but tormented teens yearning to reach out and find a common humanity. She charts the inevitable growth of her character well, but alas is poorly served by the script, which requires so little of her given the circumstances. A lot is implied through the photography, imagery, music and strange visions that Ronan herself is required to do little actual "acting" herself. Same goes for the talented George Mackay, who is meant to embody an ideal of love and masculinity but is not asked to do much to prove it apart from bring out the nice side of his own cousin. The younger kids Holland and Bird are also very likable without being annoying, a tough act especially for Bird who is meant to be a typically chirpy happy seven year old in war torn times, but naturally unaware of any of it.
How I Live Now comes across as an adaptation of a book that didn't translate as great as it should have on film. While it certainly avoids formula for a fresh mixture of genres what it fails to do is elevate them beyond mere ideas. The technical sides while faring better is unable to overcome a sloppy direction that makes the film faults more evident. As it stand it's a solid picture slightly overcoming its issues thanks to its strong cast, interesting ideas, and great cinematography that make it worth a one time viewing, though certainly nothing that will leave a big impression for how it does things.
More-or-less plopping you into Saoirse Ronan's Daisy character's arrival in Britain, and what should be the body of the narrative, this film is seriously lacking in immediate development, and it doesn't compensate as well as it probably should when it comes to gradual exposition, doing a decent job at progressive characterization, but providing only the bare minimum of detail as a character study, whose leads' flaws are hard to ignore when depths are given only so much attention, and whose tonal layers are emphasized a little too much by limitations in organic bridge-building. I don't know if the film is ever all that lighthearted, but when the heavier material comes in, it busts in, jarring you from tone Tutone-I mean, "to tone" ("8-6-7-5-3-0-9!" Speaking of tonal inconsistencies), especially during a second half that is pretty much a gritty thriller, yet still taking plenty of time to drag its feet. I don't know if the film is all that draggy, seeing as how its near-repetitious excesses in filler and material serve to add to what characterization there, but storytelling certainly feels limp when director Kevin Macdonald's meditativeness runs out of material to thoughtfully soak up, resulting in dry spells that distance, until interrupted by tonal kicks that are themselves rather problematic. While far from cloying, Macdonald has a tendency to get sentimental with his less thoughtful dramatic storytelling touches, and when those subtlety lapses really glare, they overemphasize overambition and make it near-impossible to forget, or at least forgive all of the storytelling missteps that I discussed earlier. On top of that, an ambition to bleed this drama's potential dry draws your attention to the lack of juice in this story concept, which approaches plenty of different themes and layers, but in a minimalist fashion that somehow both limits the depths of a meaty wartime dramatization, and bloats a coming-of-age drama. It doesn't seem like Meg Rosoff, the author of the source material novel of the same name, even had all that tight of a grip on what kind of a drama this is, because even in concept, this narrative is all over the place, with an adaptation that is even more so, being too messy in expository, tonal, pacing and atmospheric consistency to be all that memorable. Regardless, the film has its moments, and they break up a consistency in decency, particularly in, of all things, visual style.
The film's visual style is not terribly unique, but it is surprisingly refreshing, and attractive by its own right, with a certain well-defined grit to Franz Lustig's cinematography that tastefully plays on sparse lighting in a way that is beautiful, particularly during the more sweeping shots that either do justice to the grand, green majesty of Britan's countryside, or capture the devastating scope of a war-torn land. The somewhat bleak and light visual style at least does justice to the drama's tonal layers more organically than Kevin Macdonald's directorial storytelling, which, to be fair, plays on the dynamic visual style in order to settle some of the tonal inconsistencies, just as it cleverly plays on sometimes intentionally noisy, yet fairly tight sound mixing and Jinx Godfrey's snappy editing to capture the frantic discomfort of a troubled teens' mind, if not wartime intensity, broken by blanding thoughtful spells. Macdonald's meditativeness often gets carried away, either when it's slowing down momentum or unsubtly overplaying sentimental aspects, yet when it gets a grip on material, it milks it about as thoroughly as it can with a thin and somewhat unevenly executed story concept, capturing depths with an inspiration that is perhaps more prominent within the script. While undercooked and uneven, Jeremy Brock's, Tony Grisoni's and Penelope Skinner's script is impressively able to avoid many tropes that could have been easily hit by a film of this type, and all but makes up for immediate underdevelopment with gradual exposition which slowly, but surely grows richer as the narrative progresses. Sure, the film often utilizes filler to add to characterization, and ends up feeling about as draggy as it does fleshed out, yet there is a fair deal of realization to the scripting that drives much of the depth of this flawed character study, where it be the dramatic depth, or the thematic depth, which deals with anything from accepting missteps in your life and embracing new beginnings, to trying to get by during wartime for the sake of yourself and loved ones. Of course, what most drives this character drama is the acting, and that especially goes for lovely leading lady Saoirse Ronan, who once again transcends material limitations and carries this film by initially nailing the angst of a teen neurotic, then using powerful, maybe even devastating dramatic layers to capture the teen's gradual embracement of loved ones, who she feels she's placing in danger. Although she's still suck with the young adult roles, Ronan applies plenty of maturity to this performance (I'm not just saying that because Ronan really makes sure to satisfy those who were waiting to see what it's like for her to swear like a sailor), and while the final product's limitations in realization hold Ronan's strong performance back at times, Ronan is one of the brightest of many shining strengths that ultimately drive the final product as decent, if underwhelming.
Overall, development and subtlety are limited, slow spells stand firm, and tone jars every which way in an overblown interpretation of an overblown, when not overly minimalist story concept, until the final product collapses into underwhelmingness under the weight of overambition, which is still met with enough inspiration in gritty visual style, thoughtful direction, refreshing writing and solid acting - especially from excellent leading lady Saoirse Ronan - to make "How I Live Now" a reasonably, sometimes considerably compelling coming-of-age and fictitious war drama, despite lost potential.
2.5/5 - Fair
The story of Elizabeth or Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), a neurotic but strong-willed New York City teenager, starts with her arrival to the English countryside for the summer to stay with her British cousins, Edmond (George MacKay), Isaac (Tom Holland) and Piper (Harley Bird). A political crisis across the world is worsening, and people are worried. Although initially reluctant to interact with her cousins, Daisy finds herself warming up upon learning that her deceased mother used to stay there frequently. She also falls in love with Eddie, her eldest cousin, finding him to be as introverted and strong-willed as her. A few days after her arrival, her aunt flies to Geneva to attend an emergency conference, and the group take advantage of her absence to explore their local woodlands... but things quickly change!
I enjoyed the realistic view of the future conflict... there was no CGI enhanced futuristic looks, extreme weapons, glorifying killers as heroes... just war as ugly as it is! Needless to say, Soirse Ronan is on her usual excellent form here as paranoid, super-sensitive Daisy, and there's strong support from Bird and Holland, while Chancellor is good enough for you to miss her when she disappears. The director Kevin Macdonald was very elegantly conveying the gradual impact of global events on the family's remote location - from background television reports everyone ignores to hushed phone calls involving Aunt Penn, and eerily, distant sounds of a nuclear explosion, followed by a snowfall of white dust hours later. He created such depressingly bleak atmosphere throughout that I got fully into it... especially when he introduces chilling imagery, a pile of bodies at one of the labour camps.
First two parts of the movie were well balanced and exciting but there is a big flop when there should be biggest excitement! Somehow, there was a lack of emotional connection and you could feel it. Still, I will suggest to see it if you have some spare time. Very watchable and most of the time enjoyable.
I mean, the film certainly wasn't the best thing ever, but I thought it really got interesting once the war broke out, and they got separated.