DVD Review: How I Live Now
Teen fiction seems to be the way to make money in Hollywood these days. Set your film in a dystopian future and have a girl and a boy fall in love, even though they shouldn’t. Have them fight the system. Candy-coat everything in a nice safe ratings board way, to ensure maximum viewer-ship. Wait to the cash to flow.
Meg Rosoff’s award winning How I Live Now isn’t quite set in a dystopian future, but certainly has the love interest and enough war and devastation to give The Hunger Games and Divergence a run for their money. So why is it you’ve probably never heard of the film How I Live Now?
Probably because director Kevin Macdonald decided on a gritty, literal translation of the book to film. Macdonald gets my admiration for this, but is unlikely to be asked to adapt any more teen fiction, as it’s the film’s R16 rating that probably killed it at the box office. The majority of the target audience wasn’t bale to see it.
Which is a pity, because as a film, it treats the viewer with a hell of a lot more respect than most other teen films, showing teens acting like teens, and showing the violence of war without sugar-coating it and making it all seem like a stroll amongst the daisies.
The film plot is basic; Daisy, an American cousin is sent to England for the summer so her step mom can have her baby without the unwanted teenager around. When she arrives, she instantly hates her cousins, but due to their mother’s seemingly permanent absence, has to eventually warm to them, going as far as falling in love with the eldest boy, Edmund.
When terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb in London, the rag-tag bunch of kids move to the slightly more remote barn to try and live out the war. British troops however find them there a while later and split the girls and boys up. Edmund tells Daisy to escape when possible and meet him back at the barn.
The film then becomes a perilous journey for two young girls and Daisy and her much younger cousin escape and make their way through enemy territory to the farm.
Whilst it may reek of Tomorrow When The War Began and Red Dawn, How I LIve Now is neither. Rather it presents a strong female lead in Saoirse Ronan, who essentially leads much of the film, literally holding everything together. It’s refreshing to see such a strong female role, especially in a film that doesn’t pull any punches and has some stark gritty realism.
It’s this gritty realism that helps Ronan drive the film along, from being a sedate teen drama, to a harrowing journey through war. The story is almost randomly punctuated by the brutal, invasive nature of war, and this keeps you on your toes for the full one hundred and one minutes.
I can’t say much more without placing a large spoiler warning, so I won’t. What I will say is that How I Live Now is the only teen film adaptation that has me seriously contemplating buying the book it was based on.
Rating: R16 Violence, horror, sex scenes & offensive language.
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