How I Live Now (2013)

Angst-fueled teens vs. the Military. Wonder who will win that bout?

Spoiled, US teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) gets shipped away from her dad, all the way to her Aunt’s place in the English countryside where she is uncomfortable, pissed off and annoyed with her surroundings, practically every second of every day. She notices that her cousins are too free-living and spirited for her own good, so therefore, she ridicules them by shouting out insults at them, telling them to leave her alone and basically just having this whole sour-puss feeling towards them whenever they want her to do something fun, exciting or useful with their days that doesn’t just concern sitting at home, listening to hip, cool indie bands and/or going on the interweb and chatting with all the coolies. However, Daisy does begin to lighten up a bit when she catches the eye of Edmond (George MacKay), a house-keeper of the family, and suddenly finds herself happy and pleased with these new quarters she’s surrounded by. Even though Daisy and everything with her cousins seem to be going all mighty fine and swell, it isn’t until a full-blown nuclear war begins and the military intervenes, separating all of them and sending them to war camps where they are practically enslaved by their own government, without much hope of seeing the outside world ever again. Daisy won’t let this stand though, and instead, decides that it’s time to escape and find the ones she was sent to stay with in the first place.

Cut out both of their faces and past Bella's and Edward's on there, and you'll see no difference.
Cut out both of their faces and past Bella’s and Edward’s on there, and you’ll see no difference.

This is one strange beast of a flick for many reasons, but the main which being is its tone. For instance, the first-half of this movie starts off something like a Twilight movie where young teens are seen frolicking around, falling in love, smiling and listening to a bunch of cool songs which, needless to say, got very boring to watch. It wasn’t because it didn’t offer anything new, it was just that it was uninteresting because there was nothing really going on except for a young girl falling in love and somehow coming into her own as a woman. That meant it was only an amount of time before things switched gears and got very, very dark, which is probably where this movie really began to work its magic.

See, about half-way through, director Kevin Macdonald practically pulls the rug out from underneath us by placing us inside this very bleak, unrelenting and grim movie about two young girls trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world that’s been shattered by death, nuclear attacks and insane amounts of war. This part of the film is where I really began to be interested, and yet, I still couldn’t get my head around how differently it felt from the first-half. And like I mentioned, the first half was as weak as could be, but once Macdonald switches gears into a sort of war, survival-flick where the tension and will to live is amped-up, it felt a bit jarring, rather than a smart move on his part.

I liked the fact that Macdonald knew where he wanted to take this material, because it sure as hell showed that he had balls to take something that was a young adult romance, and give it a hard-edged spin on its ass, but it didn’t feel right and after awhile, I began to wonder what type of movie it was that I was watching. But then again, there is that thought in my head that knows I shouldn’t be all that mad at Macdonald because at least this switch kept things interesting and compelling; two elements that the first-half sure as hell wasn’t even close to achieving. So with that, I guess Macdonald deserves credit, but maybe a whole film dedicated to what was the second-half would have probably went down a lot smoother than the sudden change-of-plans that he decided to spring right onto us.

But since that second-half is so good, it’s worth mentioning how unrelenting Macdonald gets with his direction, almost to the point of where I was actually scared in believing something like this could actually happen to modern-day society. Without getting too ham-handed or preachy, there’s certain ideas about what this world might come to in case of a nuclear war in this movie that really rang true to me because while Macdonald doesn’t show an awfully negative view of the world, he still realizes that there is plenty of evil out there, regardless of if a war is going on or not. He doesn’t dig any deeper than that, but I think the ideas that were laid-out on the table were enough for me to be fully invested in what happened with this plot, and to these characters that inhabited it.

That said, Saoirse Ronan really does come into her own with this role as Daisy, showing us why she’s one of the best young actresses working today. And heck, she’s not even 20 yet! Though she did have a major set-back with the Host earlier this year, Ronan still shows promise in the way she’s able to carry herself as this self-righteous, spoiled brat that all of a sudden changes her mind once love and war gets in the way of things. The change her character has may have rang a little false, but that’s more of the scripts problem than it is of Ronan’s and I have to give her credit because she makes this character always worth rooting for, even in her most questionable acts and decisions, which come to light many of times throughout the violent last-half.

All they wanted was an autograph!
All they wanted was an autograph!

And everybody else involved with this young cast is great too, except that none of them are really as well-written as Daisy is, and now come to think of it, she wasn’t all that well-written either, it’s just that she had Ronan’s performance to fall back on. These other kiddies don’t fair quite as well as her, which is a bit of a shame, especially for George MacKay as Edmond, the one Daisy takes a liking to. Not only is this kid written like a total dream-boat that’s as unrealistic as you could get, but the romance between these two feels more like an infatuation that would take place over one summer, rather than a full-fledged love story that would have one person dangerously cross the ends of the earth just to be reunited with the other person. Didn’t feel right to me, and while it was easy for me to sort of get by all of that nonsense and pay attention to the harsh world that Macdonald created in front of my eyes, I still couldn’t fully believe in the romance that was supposed to be fueling all of this movie’s emotions and feelings. In fact, I’d wager that if it the story was told the other way around, then it would sure as hell be believable, because what strapping-young lad wouldn’t risk his life and limbs to be with Saoirse Ronan just one last time before the world goes to total shit? Lord knows I would, but then again, I’m a total sucker for young starlet babes, so sue me!

Consensus: The change-in-tone in How I Live Now is pretty jarring, and will most likely confuse the hell out of some viewers, but once this transition does happen, the movie becomes a whole lot more interesting, compelling, emotional and important, especially if you take into consideration the world we live in now, and what could happen if the same consequences presented here were to occur. Think about it, people! Think about it!

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Now, THIS is what real teen romance is like.
Now, THIS is what real teen romance is like.

Photo’s Credit to:


  1. i haven’t even heard of this film, but I just watched Last King of Scotland for the first time recently and this – “This part of the film is where I really began to be interested, and yet, I still couldn’t get my head around how differently it felt from the first-half.” – reminded me very strongly of that film’s structure, which went from almost too lightweight to quite grim in the last half.

    • It seems like a pattern with most of Macdonald’s movies. However, that one is way better than this one for many reasons. Main which being Whitaker and McAvoy.

  2. Funny. Just watched this tonight, finishing t less than 15 minutes ago. Haven’t written my review yet, but I agree. Ronan is great. The tone does shift. And the characters are not terribly well crafted.

    But all in all it does make for interesting viewing, in its own way, not least because it circumvents so many young adult cliches.

  3. Great Review. This was on my To-Watch-Watch, after hearing you describing the first half as a typical cheesy YA Novel adaptation a la Twilight, I am not sure if I can do it. Lately, I don’t have the patience to wait almost an hour until something happens, because after that twirling thumbs for so ling, I am so drained that I can’t enjoy it anymore! Would you still recommend it?

  4. I feel pretty much the same as you Dan. Ronan is a strong actress but I find the film to be somewhat lacking, for one I expected more emotional connection w/ the characters in a story like this.

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