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HOW I LIVE NOW

SYNOPSIS:
American teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is sent to holiday in the English countryside with her distant family, but finds herself in hiding and fighting for her survival as the third world war breaks out.

Review by Louise Keller:
Teenagers thrust into the terror of war is the subject matter of Kevin McDonald's film, but unlike Tomorrow When the World Began (2010), which delivered a thrilling adventure, How I Live Now is a cross between a poetic Twilight-inspired love affair and a misjudged, idealistic drama. There are four credits for the screenplay and the resulting film is equally fragmented in tone and direction. To its credit, the film's greatest asset is Saoirse Ronan, whose screen presence and ability to use stillness is one that is used to advantage. She makes us interested in her, even if we do not always care for her character, and she manages silly dialogue to sound almost credible. The recipe that McDonald uses for his apocalyptic scenario couched in tones of romantic longing fails miserably to deliver the goods, despite a few positives.

The internal voice of Saoirse Ronan's Daisy is the film's greatest failing. From the novel's written page, the thought process and the voices that Daisy hears may well be the story's mainstay, but here it is a distraction. When we meet Daisy as she arrives in the English countryside from New York to stay with her cousins on the farm, we hear her whispered inner voices, telling her to stay away from distractions and to focus on her goals. Her disapproval of the casual lifestyle with animals and tedious children is clear but her brattish behaviour changes as soon as she lays eyes on 17 year old Eddie (George MacKay). Eddie appears to have an inner voice too. The relationship between Daisy and Eddie forms the film's pulse, although most of the action takes place following their separation, as Daisy tries to find her way back to the farm after soldiers cart them off with brutish military force.

As an internal portrait of a complicated teen, the film is far more successful than trying to fuse together an apocalyptic adventure and thriller elements. The chases through the forest in which the camera work becomes shaky to emulate confusion and a percussive score goes into overdrive to signal tension are simply annoying. It is difficult to feel for the characters during the plot line in which Daisy and young Piper (Harley Bird) travel great distances through fields, forests and hills without any food or water, such is the incredulity of the scenario. The tone of the final sequences and ending is the ultimate irritation - although love-lorn teenagers may be overwhelmed by the poetic, romantic notion of it all.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I couldn't until now imagine a perfunctory apocalyptic movie, in which the apocalypse was so underwhelming and undefined, virtually invisible and apparently meaningless. But the filmmakers may defend the film on the grounds that it's not really a movie about an apocalyptic event, rather about how the characters respond to it. Well, that's my point. But to make things even more frustrating - for me - the characters are as irritating as is the story, as is the filmmaking style.

Saoirse Ronan's Daisy strides into the story as an utter brat; it is to the credit of the English children cast as her cousins that they don't swat her like an invading fly from New York. Still, these first 55 minutes or so of the film are the most satisfying and the best part of the film. Daisy is in direct contrast to the fun loving, likeable English kids enjoying their carefree life in the beautiful English countryside, notwithstanding their mother being often absent. She flits off to Geneva to do something terribly urgent and important as soon as Daisy arrives. It seems to have something to do with the impending war or catastrophe or attack.

Harley Bird as Piper the youngest is astonishingly good, but she gets little to do after this first half except trudge through the mud and the forest in Daisy's desultory wake. There is much walking and there is little dramatic development as the film twists from war story (the enemy seems to be some unidentified terrorist group) to escape story and finally to a love story. But it's a terrible mess, with scenes that are woefully misjudged. For instance, British soldiers storm the village behaving like Nazis to evacuate the locals - who are then treated like POWs in POW uniforms and put to work in market gardens.

Throughout it all is the mystical element - or is it mental illness - which puts voices into Daisy's head, voices that the 17 year old Eddie (George MacKay) seems to be hearing, too. Their spiritual connection is played up throughout, in a heavy handed and self-conscious way, but all to no avail.

There are attempts to posit the film as an arthouse gem, with camera angles and editing to enforce that sensibility, however well meaning.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 2
Mixed: 0

HOW I LIVE NOW (M)
(UK, 2013)

CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Anna Chancellor, George Mackay, Corey Johnson, Harley Bird,

PRODUCER: John Battsek, Alasdair Flind, Andrew Ruhemann, Charles Steel

DIRECTOR: Kevin Macdonald

SCRIPT: Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni,

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Franz Lustig

EDITOR: Jinx Godfrey

MUSIC: Jon Hopkins

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jacqueline Abrahams

RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 28, 2013







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