{film} running time 101 minutes

on

how i live ronan

An American girl, sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives, finds love and purpose while fighting for her survival as war envelops the world around her.—IMDb.

I was not aware Kevin Macdonald’s How I Live Now (2013) was adapted from a 2004 YA novel by Meg Rosoff until just prior to cueing it up on Netflix. I have not heard anything bad about Rosoff’s novel(s) and I am aware of the difficulties in adapting novels to screen, so what follows is purely in response to the film. Even so,  this would be a good film for playing bingo with popular YA-fiction tropes.

We saw the trailer some months ago and the film stayed on our radar. We like actress Saoirse Ronan and the premise of the film sounded promising: after being separated, two young lovers try to get back home to one another. I do like romance stories, really. And while Ronan was not a letdown, the premise, I am sad to say, was.

how-i-live-now-saoirse-ronan-george-mckay{Saoirse Ronan as Daisy w/ George MacKay as Eddie}

The primary difficulty with the narrative is that it is told along chronological lines. Elizabeth, now Daisy, gets off the plane and is met by her young cousin Isaac (Tom Holland). They go to his country house where she meets her older cousin Eddie (George MacKay). Everything slows when they interact so we catch the intensity of their response to one another. Over the next few days, she has to will herself out of her comfort zone and she finds herself in love with Eddie, so much so that she couldn’t possibly think of leaving him after some official hunts her down to give her a plane ticket home after London has been possibly nuked, but certainly bombed the hell out of. I would have preferred a series of flashbacks to an idyllic time and place, like those precious and sexy moments Daisy will come to dream about anyway. It would move her love outside of time, maybe to weeks instead of days. It would eliminate, too, the noticeable absences of kind adults, an odd appearance of the American official, and the aggression of the military presence vacating the homestead. Every ingredient at the opening is so ridiculously amped up and intense.

Why the “I hate my father who has a new baby and could care less about me now” trope? To explain her attitude, introduce daddy issues, and possibly compare him with Eddie, I suppose, but it comes across as just too much for the film. And what is with the mystery of the mother having gone to this home when she was a child, too? A nod to Rosoff’s readership, I hope; just as those scars on Eddie’s back. I also missed somewhere just how people are related exactly, outside of cousins. As I’ve been reading 18th-to-early 20th century literature of late, that Eddie and Daisy are cousins was not startling, but it was still odd. I think they were supposed to struggle with the notion themselves, but the pace of the movie and our understanding that theirs is the great romance removed that quandary pretty quickly—just about as quickly as they lost their clothing.

If the opening is to create an investment in the characters and their edenic situation, the success is tepid at best. And this is not the only part Natalya—our resident teenager—declared boring.

how i live still

{George MacKay as Eddie being evacuated and/or pressed into service}

A militarized state is imposed during the ensuing national crisis. A violent military presence arrives at this idyllic home and, acting as if the children are combatants, roughly separates the youth by gender and carts them away. We don’t know about the boys, but the girls—Ronan and a child Piper (Harley Bird)—end up in the home of a military official and his wife, just the two of them. They work sorting edible vegetables from heaps. Daisy begins to plan an escape, having not only sex dreams of Eddie, but ones where he is summoning her home. She is sure the boys have already made a break for it.

One of our complaints is the inability to measure time after the separation. Daisy’s roots kept changing length. I think a time stamp would not have been amiss.

Cue neighbor boy’s reappearance so we can reconnect with him emotionally before he dies rather horribly. Cue also a string of events that show just how imperiled the heroine is without actually imperiling her. She doesn’t even have blisters from all the walking, the little girl suffers them. She does get to find the heap of inexplicably bagged bodies at the farm where the boys were to have been sent.

how-i-live-now (1){Harley Bird as Piper w/ Ronan (Daisy)}

There is a sense of dread that Eddie might not be waiting. Call me morbid, but I was also a bit excited by the prospect, if only to subvert that inevitable reuniting—which is the only thing the film does not make easy. Yes, never fear, there is a happy ending…as happy as the film can afford Daisy understanding what Eddie has been through.

As frustrated as the narrative leaves me, Ronan did not disappoint me, and I enjoyed MacKay’s acting as well. Piper makes the journey sufferable. That Ronan’s character was so abrasive at first was a bit off-putting, but we were sure that it was important to the character’s development. She is going to be changed by her experience from a distracted, cold and angry young woman to a kinder, gentler, selfless young woman; which is what happens–however inelegantly. That angry shock of hair gets swept up in domestication. Her insecurities and their attempts to please popular culture are energies refocused into pleasing her man—a man not taken up with popular culture himself. No, Eddie is handsome, quiet, sensitive to nature, family-oriented, and possibly telepathic? He’s the swoon-worthy boy of contemporary romance literature.

Daisy:  Before the war I used my willpower for stupid stuff, like not eating chocolate. I think I thought if I could control myself, then maybe the world around me would start to make sense. I guess I was pretty naive back then.

We like the flawed protagonist, we do. Only sometimes she was just so focused as to be dangerous. The consistency is laudable, and the shift of it being a negative attribute to a positive one is equally so. I find that the shift accompanies a recalibrated selflessness of greatest interest. Her love of Eddie is selfish to some degree. She wants to give up on all life without him. He is always before her. She cannot leave him behind, and she will sacrifice the little sister for him. She needs him (in order to be domestic) and he, we come to know, needs her determination and focus. His PTSD requires her attention and patience. Even the musical compositions still and soften. Daisy is not that hero of primary importance to be recovered by the end–voice over trope not withstanding–it is Eddie. So maybe the happy ending is more tentative than I first proposed.

how i live now

As for sound and cinematography: The sound is well-enough and the cinematography was pretty, too—except this one hideous quick zoom to her face as she makes a realization. She has this supernatural connection to Eddie, you see, and she suddenly knows something and the camera must close the space between a medium shot and a close-up. The zoom would have struck a sour note if the film hadn’t already turned.

If the expectation is low and the mood light-weight or drunk like it, the premise may romance you enough to satisfy. Otherwise, the How I Live Now is lackluster at best.

 

how-i-live-nowHow I Live Now (2013). Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Jeremy Brock Tony Grisoni & Penelope Skinner; based on novel by Meg Rosoff; music by Jon Hopkins; Cinematography by Franz Lustig; Editing by Jinx Godfrey; produced by John Battsek, Alasdair Flind, Andrew Ruhemann & Charles Steel. Studios Cowboy Films, Film 4. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures, Momentum Pictures, Madman Entertainment. Starring: Saoirse Ronan (Daisy), George MacKay (Eddie), Tom Holland (Isaac), Harley Bird (Piper) & Anna Chancellor (Aunt Penn).

Running Time: 101 minutes.  Rated R for violence, disturbing images, language and some sexuality. So the majority of its best bet as far as audiences go was rated out of seeing it in theaters…

To pair w/ the new Red Dawn…

 

 

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