Where Utopia & Dystopia Meet (Film Review: “How I Live Now”)

Imagine a hodgepodge in which 28 Days Later meets The Hunger Games, and then imagine that instead of a soupy slop it somehow becomes a surprisingly satisfying stew. That’s How I Live Now in a nutshell.

SnapShot Plot

The flight from JFK has just landed at Heathrow. It’s the near future, marked by an overwhelming military presence and security measures everywhere . . . basically not too far removed from present day reality, which makes what’s about to happen all the more terrifying possible. Arrival: Daisy, a pain-in-the-ass, borderline OCD American tenager who’s been basically dumped for the summer on her eccentric, freewheeling young British cousins who she’s never met before. She’s as unprepared for their hippy-dippy tree hugging life in the bucolic English countryside as they are for her teen angst-ridden, irritated, antisocial tough girl persona. It’s just a matter of time, though, before Daisy begins to warm to her cousins’ innocent joy and exuberant celebration of the glorious nature surrounding them. She also finds herself drawn to her cousin Edmund, the oldest, even though she realizes the moral taboo surrounding the topic. There’s not much time to debate this sexual conundrum before a nuclear attack on London ignites what will become World War III (no spoiler here, it’s the basic descriptor for the film!) I’m happy to report no heavy-handed CGI or special effects are needed to illustrate the heart-stopping journey ahead for the cousins as they find themselves ripped from their home and each other in this very affecting character-driven film.

“Wherever they take you, find a way to get back here. . . Promise me.”

Parting Shot

The entire success of the picture rests on the young shoulders of Irish actress, Saorise Ronan, who is basically in every single scene. And although you may roll your eyes a bit at the ‘Destiny of Young Love’ theme at work, keep in mind the film is an adaptation of the young adult novel by author, Meg Rosoff, as envisioned by director, Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland).

At 19, Ronan already boasts an amazing filmography, having starred in highly acclaimed movies such as The Lovely BonesAtonement, and Hanna. She is currently featured in Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel and is slated to star in the upcoming directorial debut from Ryan Gosling, entitled, How to Catch a Monster. The camera loves her face, and the world is catching on.

The children are exceptional in this film, and my only disappointment was that Anna Chancellor (Aunt Penn) only occupies the screen for 5 minutes…she’s a favorite character actor of mine, who you’ll recall from Four Weddings & A Funeral, What a Girl Wants, and The Dreamers, among others.

What makes How I Live Now compelling? Daisy’s believable and wondrous character arc from an angry, neurotic self-absorbed girl to a strong, brave and loyal young woman.

English Major Sidebar: I wonder if Meg Rosoff thought about the 19th Century tragic heroine of Henry James’ Daisy Miller when she set about creating this Daisy, another brash American whose arrival in Europe opens her eyes to the evils of the world and who hence loses her innocence? An interesting question, indeed.

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSaxm68PPT4

Featured Image Courtesy of: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/magnolia-nabs-us-rights-how-593287

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