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How I Live Now

What She said:

She

Ahhhh, young love in the face of the apocalypse.  That’s essentially what How I Live Now is about.  This British film, starring Saoirse Ronan and a bunch of other English kids that I’ve never heard of, shows the heartbreaking side of war.  It’s based on a young-adult novel of the same name.  But don’t kid yourself, this movie doesn’t seem particularly geared toward teenagers, and is riddled with brutality, death, and dark themes that will send a chill down your spine.

How I Live Now

Here’s your basic plot.  Daisy is an American teen who has a few problems.  She’s kind of OCD, a bit of a punk, and probably too self-aware.  Her father sends her to live with some cousins in England for the summer.  Upon arrival, it’s apparent that things aren’t exactly normal.  The country is on the brink of war with an unknown party.  Daisy travels to the remote farm owned by her aunt and family, but it’s only a matter of days before Aunt Penn is pulled away to Geneva for work and the kids are left alone.  Daisy is initially introverted, not paying much attention to her three cousins, Isaac, Piper, and Edmund.  But they needle her hard and get her to start opening up.  Daisy and Eddie find themselves drawn to each other, and it doesn’t take too long before they’ve started a romance, however incestuous. 

But things do not remain easy for Daisy and her cousins.  War officially breaks out, and with an absence of a parent/guardian, they are torn apart by the military and sent to live in different locations.  Daisy and Piper live at the home of a military family and work days at a farm/labor camp, and the Isaac and Eddie are sent to a different encampment.  It’s a tough life.  Food is rationed, and the water system has been polluted.  The cousins had made a promise to fight their way back to the home farm and be reunited, and so Daisy and Piper escape and begin the trek.  It takes a week or longer of walking, and along the way they encounter many hazards.  Will they make it back to Isaac and Eddie?  Will Isaac and Eddie even be alive when they return?

If you can get over the fact that the love story in this film is based on two cousins hooking up, then it’s a pretty interesting concept.  It’s definitely kind of gross and wrong, but the representation of apocalyptic war in this film is unnerving in a good way.  Nowadays, we don’t think much of the notion of war on our own soil, and that is exactly what’s happening here.  Daisy cannot go a day without being in peril, as there are bombings all over, the water supply has been intentionally tainted, and food is pretty scarce.  Then we have all the other glorious things that come with war.  The formal justice system has fallen apart, and so rioting, pillaging, and rape seem commonplace.  There are literally bad people everywhere looking to take advantage of the situation.  Daisy and her cousins are not just fleeing from the terrorists invading the country, they’re also trying to avoid locals who have become violent and ugly.

How I Live Now

What we see in this film is not PG-13.  There is some brutal violence—physical and sexual.  There’s also plenty of death and dead bodies.  It’s quite gruesome at times.  It’s also disturbingly realistic.  The movie turns exceptionally dark as the cousins are separated, and no one that they encounter seems genuinely good.  Survival depends upon each person worrying about themselves, and it’s scary to see the measures that one must resort to in order to stay alive.

I give credit to the young actors in this film for doing a decent job.  Saoirse Ronan is quite good as Daisy, and she carries much of the film and its emotional power on her back.  She’s very good at wearing her emotions on her face, which proves effective in this type of film.  The other actors who play her cousins (Tom Holland, George MacKay, and Harley Bird) are also pretty decent, and their rather genuine performances help to make the movie feel authentic.

The romance angle to me is awkward and forgettable, but I guess it’s what drives Daisy.  However, I think this motivation could have been achieved in a more innocent and less incestuous way.  I’ll be honest, it bothered me throughout the film.  I really don’t know who would be cool with it.  It’s one thing to stay true to the books, but seriously, do we have to go there?

The cinematography in this movie is very good.  The director brought a sense of wonder and beauty to the rural farm scenes, while the sections of the film that take place elsewhere are very dark.  The way in which the movie was filmed stood out to me as one of its finer qualities, helping to add dimension to an otherwise fairly simplistic storyline.

Overall, I appreciated the movie’s presentation of a world at war.  It was scary and alarming.  I was not in love with the general romance storyline, but I tried not to dwell on it.  All put together, I thought this film was decent and watchable.  I had never heard of it before, but was relatively pleased with what I saw.

Thumbs mostly up.

How I Live Now

What he said:

He

The first time I saw the trailer for this movie, I was reminded of the trailer – and terrible reviews – for Saoirse Ronan’s previous movie, The Host. The Host was another adaptation from Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, and just like Twilight it was awful (according to reviews, I never actually saw The Host). She’s a rich woman, so I’m not saying she doesn’t have her fans. I’m just saying that her work is criticized for a reason.  So even though this was not based on another Stephanie Meyer book, it looked very much like it was, and I still had it on my mind Ronan’s previous movie was from one of Meyer’s works. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to watching this.

How I Live Now

So anyway, Daisy is an American teenager who is forced to go live with her Aunt Penn and her children in the English countryside. Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) does not seem excited about this move. The movie doesn’t delve very much into why her father sent her there, but it seems like it was forced on her and he simply doesn’t want her around for the time being. You also get that impression because he never really seems to keep track of her. He just ships her off to another country and out of his hair.  I’m sure the book delves into this in more detail, but I got the impression it has something to do with her stepmother.

Already in a bad mood, Daisy is even more put off when she sees that her Aunt didn’t show up to pick her up, but instead sent her son Isaac  (Tom Holland). Isaac is an upbeat and friendly young man. Naturally, Daisy hates him. She’s also bothered by the fact that he is the one that is going to be driving her home despite the fact that he’s clearly not old enough to drive.

This is the first of many signs of the offbeat lifestyle Aunt Penn and her children live. As I mentioned earlier, they live on the English countryside, there are very few neighbors around, and the kids generally do what they want. Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor) is too preoccupied with her job, which appears to be something to do with the government. Oh, have I mentioned that the world appears to be on the verge of a third World War? Yeah, there’s that, and Aunt Penn’s job has something to do with it. So because she’s either locked in her office 24/7, or away from home all together, the kids are on their own. As a result, the house is a pigsty. The kids seem to enjoy it though, because they can go swimming or do whatever else they want whenever they want.

Daisy also seems to be annoyed by her younger cousin Piper (Haley Bird), but she sure seems to like her older cousin Eddie (George McKay). Boy is she smitten with him. From the second she lays eyes on him, you can see there’s something between them.  I mentioned they were cousins right? Yeah, so there’s that going on, but I’ll ignore it for now so I can continue with my review.

For the most part, Daisy is pretty unhappy. She doesn’t like the food, doesn’t like her cousins – aside from the one she has the hots for – doesn’t like the outdoor activities her cousins take part in to occupy their time, and finds the whole place extremely boring.

How I Live Now

One day though, she lets her guard down and goes swimming with them, after much reluctance. It was a big decision for her, because she doesn’t have total control over her actions. Sure, she’s a moody bitch, but she’s got some kind of emotional issues going on. She seems to be a little obsessive, anti-social, and very fearful of doing things. So going swimming with her cousins might seem small to you and me, but for her it’s a big step. That is sort of her turning point. She starts to open up and yes, even begin a relationship with Ed (yep there’s that incest thing again).

Well what do you know? The second she lets her hair down, World War III breaks out. Bombs are going off in the distance, power is out, and government officials from the America Embassy show up to  offer Daisy a free ride back to the states. She declines, because she wants to stay with her cousins; mostly Ed, but she has warmed up to all of them and enjoys their quirky lifestyle now.

They all decide that they’re going to just stay in the country and continue to live on as they normally would and whatever happens happens. That doesn’t last a terribly long time. After a little while, soldiers show up to evacuate the village (or whatever it is they live in)There’s a fight, the boys are separated from the girls, and Daisy and Piper end up living with a family in another part of England. They are put into a labor camp. They’re not prisoners or being punished, but are forced to gather food and supplies, while the soldiers fight the enemy. The situation is dire and everybody needs to chip in.

Daisy just wants to get back home; and by home I mean Aunt Penn’s house. She has given up on her father and the United States. She just wants to go back to that simple life on the countryside that she’s fallen in love with (and the cousin she just so happens to be in a relationship with). The rest of the movie is about her and Piper’s escape and their journey back to there. It’s a surprisingly gritty and graphic tale. I didn’t realize until this part of the movie that it had to be Rated R. It was just too harsh for a typical young adult story. It didn’t dance around or sugar coat things the way something like Twilight would. It caught me off-guard, but also had me thinking this movie was legit. I was surprised at how genuinely dark the portrayal of their journey was. You know how when the rules go out the window, people become less civilized? Yeah, that’s kind of stuff. So Daisy is forced to protect herself and Piper from all the wonderful human beings that remain in this war-torn world. Its heavy stuff and both of these young actresses do really well with. Neither came off like they were in over their head or incapable of being a part of that kind of subject matter.

The only complaint I have about the movie is the whole incest thing. Why? The author clearly goes out of her way to make the characters related. Why would she do that? Does she believe there’s nothing wrong with it (which is creepy)? Is she trying to say something about boundaries and rules in a world destroyed by war, as if to say it’s ok because people all around they are dying anyway? It’s really difficult to figure out what she was trying to say with this part of the story. It’s hard to ignore too, because the whole time Daisy is fighting to get back home you are reminded it’s her cousin she’s trying to reunite with.

Aside from that, I thought the movie was really good. I was surprised how much I liked it. Well-acted, gritty, and not loaded with bad acting or sappy subplots found in other similar stories. The movie also had great visuals. I also thought the backdrop was an interesting choice. Not many movies for this age group revolve around war. It’s usually wizards, vampires, robots, or dystopian futures in which the government oppresses its citizens. This premise is tame compared to those, but it works in the movies favor.

I also liked the ambiguity surrounding this movie. I don’t want to say much more than that because I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that I felt the movie benefited from it.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on June 21, 2014.

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