By: Addison Wylie
Kevin MacDonald’s adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s novel How I Live Now is a bit of a struggle for movie goers trying to figure out what type of movie this is. Mostly because How I Live Now has two sets of confusion working for and against it.
MacDonald begins his film on an aggressive note to mirror the personality of our lead, Daisy (played by Saoirse Ronan). While it fulfils its goal, the rebellious attitude feels too forced; almost as if we’re seeing the seams in an approach that a director isn’t truly comfortable with.
We get more of this uncertainty in tone as we meet Daisy’s distant family. The punk rock tendencies take a step back, and the film begins to take on more quirky qualities as well as those we may find in the latest post-Twilight stab.
Daisy’s younger cousins are snappy and aiming to sweeten up the audience. This includes an adorable youngster named Piper (played by Harley Bird) who always has something cute to say and puts random hats on her dog. Whether a movie goer finds these moments funny or cloying is up to them. I was sitting somewhere in the middle.
But, still, How I Live Now feels like it doesn’t cut too deep for a while. The film purposely puts a climactic life-or-death war scenario in the background and keeps details to a minimum. This is done to a superb effect, making the audience wonder what’s going on in this outside world.
In the meantime, the audience is presented with a rushed romance between Daisy and Edmond (played by George MacKay). It’s hard to believe in the love bubbling between Ronan and MacKay because it doesn’t take much to smitten Daisy and – literally – wash away her antisocial attributes. It’s also quite silly since Edmond is built as a “Mr. Wonderful”, strong-silent-type cliché.
With this rudimentary romance, Daisy’s relentless voices in her head and the Saoirse Ronan connection, the only thought audiences will believe is that MacDonald is pitching us a sequel to 2013’s soap operatic clunker The Host.
But, then we’re surprised. How I Live Now eventually finds its footing, introducing the perilous danger into the story more. The confusion MacDonald had is then passed on to the characters as they try and figure out the war going on around them.
The film becomes frightening and tense as it turns into a story of survival. Revealing information is kept at a low level, which adds to the anxiousness. However, just the right amount of details are solved along the way, enticing movie goers to stay tuned.
Ronan is much more convincing as a worn out but determined hero than someone who’s edgy and voices it often. It’s a relief to see her acting capabilities being used to great effect during the latter part of the film.
It would’ve been nice to hear more about the effects of war as the film winds down, but that would’ve resulted in a longer movie and MacDonald overstaying his welcome. As it stands, How I Live Now is the perfect length.
How I Live Now evolves into one of those thrillers where once the film cools down, you wonder why your hands are clammy. It then hits you it’s because you’ve been nerve-wracked as you watch Daisy try and survive. It takes a very long time for Kevin MacDonald and his company to reach those heights, but when they do, they conjure up an emotionally impressive film.
Runtime: 101 minutes
For more information on the festival, visit the official TIFF webpage here.
Check out the How I Live Now TIFF page here.
Buy tickets here.
More TIFF13 Coverage:
Read my Wylie Writes review of Don Jon here.
Read my Film Army review of Faith Connections here.
Read my Film Army reviews of Roland, Paradise Falls, Anatomy of Assistance, and We Wanted More here.
Read my Film Army review of The Dick Knost Show here.
Read my Wylie Writes review of McCanick here.
Read my Film Army interview with Roland’s Trevor Cornish and Paradise Falls’ Fantavious Fritz here.
Read my Film Army review of When Jews Were Funny here.
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