How I Live Now – Film Review
I’ve been waiting for Saoirse to follow up Hanna with something equally as captivating.
The Host was doomed from the Stephenie Meyer start.
And Byzantium was, well, ugh.
How I Live Now will have to be good enough for now, I suppose. Because it beats the shit out of those two.
TL;DR Thankfully light on the melodrama, but disappointingly light on everything else, too, How I Live Now is a breezy, almost-end-of-the-world romp. But I don’t think it was really going for that. 3 out of 5 stars.
I also read the book about 6 years ago, but remember very little of it. If you were wondering.
Saoirse leads the plot as Daisy, a bratty American teenager who has been sent to live with her dull, English cousins because her dad doesn’t want to put up with her shit anymore. She makes her English relatives put up with her shit for a while, and also falls in love with hottie cousin Edmond. The incest is one of the few things I do remember from the book. Then World War 3 pops off and Daisy and her young relatives face the trials of war-torn civilians. The boys (Edmond and younger brother Isaac) get separated from the girls (Daisy and youngest sibling Piper). Daisy and Piper do forced labour and go to improvised refugee housing. They eventually slip away to realise Daisy’s compulsion of everyone meeting back up at the farm house. They go through some hardships, including finding Isaac’s dead body at the training camp the boys were taken to, before returning home. Edmond is also inexplicably there. The film ends with Daisy nursing a shell-shocked Edmond back to life.
The cousin-fucking issue is never addressed.
Not that it’s a huge deal. What is more of the damper on How I Live Now is how superficially the horrors of war are dealt with. Really.
Daisy and Piper have to do some work sorting produce for food, and live in minor discomfort at some house with people they don’t know. Boo fucking hoo. They get some rude awakenings, like finding Isaac’s body, or when Daisy has to violently deal with some men who chase them through the woods, but mostly, they kind of just roll along.
Just a few tragedies to minor characters. Nothing to see here. Try not to focus on Daisy’s abominable roots.
Why I hate this movie:
Also, how short was this war? Daisy’s roots barely grow out at all. The brevity of the situation doesn’t help the impact, either.
The entire setup for the plot is preposterous. Firstly, Daisy’s father sends her to England amidst political tensions that are evidently volatile enough for war to break out 10 seconds after her arrival. Thanks, dad. Then Daisy rejects an offer from the American embassy to be evacuated back to the States before shit gets too real. Then the kids decide that living in seclusion on their country property will be totally cool, you guys. Then Daisy doggedly forces herself and Piper to return home just because she has a gut instinct. Fuck off. Daisy and Edmond are old enough not to be that retarded.
Daisy and Edmond’s romance is shallow (it’s the night for it) and hard to believe. They’re first cousins. As far as I know, first cousins are not forbidden from marriage in my home country of Australia, but that’s some serious social taboo. I’m no puritan, but ew, you guys. Secondly, Daisy is a fucking cunt, and Edmond is a wordless weirdo who’s into bloody falconry. Goddamn teenage hormones. I could forgive them for choosing the only options in a small talent pool, but then they both go to insane lengths to reunite. I’m not buying it.
One of the other things I remember from the book is that Daisy, as narrator, talks a-mile-a-minute in run-on sentences like a manic, teenage girl. Throughout the course of the book, she gradually reins in her crazy self and ends up narrating like a normal human being. The film’s version of this seems to be the odd spell of Daisy hearing her inner-voice whispering crazy/mean things at a fast pace. It doesn’t work.
The first spark of Edmond and Daisy’s romance is when she cuts her finger, and Edmond nonchalantly sticks it in his mouth and sucks off the blood. Yeah, that’s a dealbreaker, ladies. Daisy returns the favour in the closing moments of the movie. Maybe I am a prude, because I don’t think this is really a thing. But then again, they are family.
Daisy thinks of herself as a curse because her mum died during her birth. Clichéd. Bland. Slack.
Oh, and just to make sure your suspension of disbelief is truly shattered, Daisy follows a random hawk who she believes to be Edmond’s on the final leg back home. And it works.
But it’s not all bad:
Saoirse Ronan is sublime in everything she’s in. Even as this peroxide-drenched, irrational dickhead.
In fact, all the kids do an admirable job. Except the blank, unconvincing Edmond. But when the role calls for you to be a piece of meat for Daisy to fawn over, then disappear for the rest of the runtime, I suppose it’s not really his fault.
Despite her what-to-the-ever attitude, I will praise Daisy for her determination. She chooses a goal (return home), decides on a course of action (stash supplies/learn routes), and enacts it. Successfully. Her motivation is blah, but girl’s fucking competent.
Daisy and Piper’s trek is the highlight of the movie. Their discovery of the crashed passenger plane is such a serene yet terrifying visual. Piper even finds and eats a gift-wrapped box of chocolates from among the wreckage. Nice.
Daisy’s search of the body pile at the boys’ camp (I assume they were being trained for military service) is pretty grim. She finds Isaac, but is relieved not to find Edmond. Like I said, she’s dogged.
The girls also encounter some English women getting sexually abused by enemy soldiers, but are unfortunately powerless to intervene. And a pair of English men also attack the girls soon before they reach their destination. It’s unclear what their motives were, but regardless, Daisy puts them both to bed. With bullets. She kills the first one in self defence. The second one is subdued, but she murders him anyway. You gotta be sure, you know?
A neighbour boy who the gang played with before the war shows up during one of the girls’ work trips. He has become a drinker, and taunts some enemy troops who have commandeered a checkpoint the work transport truck was going to use. They shoot him in the head. It’s one of the few truly intense moments.
The other truly intense moment is when the gang is out in the field and they feel the whoosh from the first bombing of London. That would scare the shit out of me, too.
The dog, who got left behind at the house, survives.
Oh, and apart from Isaac (and Neighbour Boy), it’s a mostly happy ending. I appreciate it.
Saoirse Ronan is a star. It’s a shame that her career seems to have forgotten that. Daisy is no Hanna, but she’s kick-butt enough. But dear God, fix those roots. 3 out of 5 stars.