How I Live Now

Directed By: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor, George MacKay, and Harley Bird

"If the world doesn't end, that's how I want to be, here with you.  And that's how I live now."
-Daisy (Saoirse Ronan)

Romances can kill movies sometimes.  The undying need to have repeatedly schmaltzy moments can sap away all the energy on screen.  I'm sure there are a million movies that fit this description.  The worst ones usually involve teens.  When this happens, we get younger actors who aren't always able to bring love to the big screen in an impactful way.  If the aforementioned quote indicates anything, this is the problem that plagues Kevin Macdonald's latest film How I Live Now, an adaptation of Meg Rosoff's novel of the same name.  While the romance between Daisy and Edmond may have worked on paper for Rosoff, it doesn't quite work the same on camera with a 21st century world war breaking out all over Europe.

Sent away by her father as he starts a new family, Daisy (Ronan) is moving to the UK to live with her step cousins.  When she arrives at the airport, her 14 year-old cousin Isaac (Tom Holland) is there awaiting her.  He takes her to his car and drives her back to their home in the English countryside.  There, Daisy gets a good look at her new personal hell.  Dishes, clothes, and dirt are everywhere.  She also meets her cousins Edmond (George MacKay) and Piper (Harley Bird), who appear to take care of themselves.  Her aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) is working and nowhere to be found.  With three rather annoying self-sufficient cousins, life in the middle of nowhere, and plenty of daddy issues, the voices in this New York City native's head are running amok and telling her all the wrong things.

As Daisy gets to know her cousins, her icy exterior slowly begins to crumble.  She also starts enjoying the peaceful, natural setting around her.  She even gets a chance to chat with her Aunt Penn and learn a little bit of her family history and her mom's time there in the countryside.  Most importantly, Daisy becomes infatuated with Edmond, for whom the feelings are mutual.  These step cousins begin a relationship, and life is peachy.  All that changes one day while her aunt is away in Geneva.  With their mom gone, the kids are out exploring the woodlands near their home.  While they're out, the wind grows furious, a thunderous boom roars off in the distance, and they watch their beloved country get plunged into nuclear warfare.  The world has taken a turn for the worse, and this tough new reality is how they must live now.

Though there's an interesting war tale woven into this flick, How I Live Now is a film soured by the sappy teen romance between Daisy and Edmond.  Romance and war may have blended well in Rosoff's novel, but things aren't quite the same here on the big screen.  Last King of Scotland director Kevin Macdonald shines in highlighting the tense, harsh life brought on by the war, but he's not the right person to try to mix this brutal survival drama with a teen love affair.  He tries to create too large a contrast between these two parts of the film, and things just become tonally awkward.  That's not even considering the fact that we have cousins in a relationship.  We have cousins that are physically intimate (though I fault Rosoff and her source material for this element of the story).  Things only feel more bizarre in How I Live Now because of this.

The performances are decent.  Though she's not kicking ass and taking names as she did in Hanna a couple of years ago, Saoirse Ronan is one tough chick in her role as Daisy.  Though I'm not terribly entertained by the romantic element of her performance, I do enjoy her work on screen as this girl who goes though the unthinkable and musters up the will to survive.  As her on-screen lover and cousin Edmond, George MacKay gives a decent performance but nothing noteworthy.  It doesn't help that he has zero chemistry with Ronan.  As her cousin Isaac, Tom Holland gives a charming performance.  As Piper, Daisy's little traveling companion on the road of war, Harley Bird brings a lighter spirit to the film and endears moviegoers consistently.

How I Live Now has its strengths and weaknesses.  On the whole though, I was entertained.  Kevin Macdonald's romantic war gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a couple of glasses of merlot with this one.