There is nothing like pandering to that elusive teen crowd at the box office when dispersing adolescent angst with worldwide wartime woes. Hey, at least this minor melodrama does not casually feature CGI-enhanced shirtless vampires or bespectacled boy wizards, right? Nevertheless, director Kevin MacDonald (‘The King Of Scotland’) is making the pledge of serving up youth-oriented love and romance amongst the English countryside ruins in the soggy drama ‘How I Live Now’.
Incessantly moody and manipulative, the overwrought ‘How I Live Now’ tries to garner some notable swagger when serving up the talented Saoirse Ronan (‘Atonement’, ‘The Lovely Bones’, ‘City Of Ember’) as an American punkish pixie traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to visit her maternal distant cousins in a near future England on the brink of bleak chaos. ‘How I Live Now’ is based upon the adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s acclaimed 2004 young adult novel. War may be hell but at least MacDonald’s sullen-faced heroine finds the time to bat her eyes at a leather jacket-wearing companion looking like an 80’s boy band refugee straight from the south-side of London.
Teenaged tart Daisy (Ronan) is a New Yorker saddled with alienation. She is dour and distant (listen up all you Bella fans out there in ‘Twilight’ land) and her father and his expectant girlfriend-turned-wife is not making things any easier for the mopey Daisy. Hence, Daisy decides to head for England to live with some distant cousins from her late mother’s side of the family tree. Goodbye to the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple and hello to the aforementioned quaint English countryside where her relatives await.
The defiant Daisy is not easy to cosy up to at first with her bleach blonde hair and radical attire that screams of an anti-establishment youngish Yankee lass laced with attitude. However, Daisy eventually drops down her hardened shell when she cannot help but swoon in the presence of one of her cute step-cousins in Edmond a.k.a. Eddie (George McKay). Daisy cannot get her mind off of him especially when she is separated from Eddie due to the war on terror that has come to the English shores where destruction and devastation is everywhere to be had at a moment’s notice. Simply put…the world is coming apart in militaristic strife and all Daisy can do is imagine the next kiss on her cheek from the hunky Eddie in what was a seemingly idyllic setting? What a way to keep your priorities in check, Daisy!
Before a blink of an eye, Daisy has found herself in the middle of war-torn England where reported bombings around Europe and machine gun-carrying soldiers are marching about in frenetic fashion. The real tragedy that hits home locally is the nuclear blast that pummels London where over 10,000 people perish in this terrorist atrocity. Because Daisy’s peace activist aunt has to spread the word about the genocide that exists she leaves her American charge and her own children to fend for themselves as they hide out in the country. So Daisy and her band of cousins are officially in survival mode. Let the games begin or in a wishful thinking frame of mind…let ‘The Hunger Games’ begin as clearly Ronan’s Daisy looks to be awkwardly channeling Jennifer Lawrence’s wilderness warrior chick in the same vein.
Clumsily, ‘How I Live Now’ wants so much to juggle the scattered sentiments about the horrors of war/military, teen frustration and young romance but MacDonald never really grasps any of the revolving content he so shoddily presents. Ronan is indeed a capable young actress and her supporting cast of tykes is sufficient enough but they simply do not sell the premise of vulnerable underlings struggling in the plight of a dystopian war zone. In fact, the film feels strangely flat in terms of conveying the battle fatigue disillusionment because we hardly are swept up in the off-screen decay and detachment that is supposedly taken place in favor of the trivial gooey-eyed moments between Ronan’s Daisy and McKay’s Eddie.
The romantic vibe surrounding the snooty Daisy and wide-eyed Eddie, particularly in the whirlwind of waste and panic is deemed rather conventional and silly-minded. Daisy’s perceived indifference to the suffering that is occurring around her in favour of her blinded obsession with Eddie collapses the poignancy and whatever thinly-veiled tension there was to consider in the first place. ‘How I Live Now’ would welcome the possibilities of being in the spirit of the vastly effective ‘Children Of Men’ but lacks the depth and emotional investment.
Although ambitious with its take on young love within the possible confines of a grueling Armageddon, ‘How I Live Now’ should have probably borrowed a few shirtless vampires here or a bespectacled boy wizard there and see if they could instil some solid excitement in the war effort as dullards Daisy and Eddie opt for a hormonal hayride in the English countryside.
How I Live Now (2013)
1 hr. 40 mins.
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George McKay, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor, Harley Bird and Corey Johnson
Directed by: Kevin MacDonald
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Teen Romance/Action and Adventure/Military
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)