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Movie Review: How I Live Now

How I live Now

How I Live Now, starring Saoirse Ronan, felt a little like a blanket full of gaping holes. Perhaps the idea of these holes was to create initial mystery and intrigue, however none of them were darned by the end of the film, so I left the cinema feeling a bit cold and shabby.

Set in a contemporary time setting, the film follows Daisy (Ronan), your typical angsty teen, who finds insult in everything, from airport officers asking her to remove her headphones, to her cousins cheerily greeting her at the arrivals lounge. It seems that Daisy has been sent from hometown LA by her father, against her will, but there's a gaping hole as to why.

Despite the persistent warmth extended by her cousins once arriving at her remote and leafy new home, Daisy maintains a commitment to rebuffing them, and alienating herself. With the exception of cousin Eddie (George MacKay), a strapping young lad about the same age as she. From the second they lay eyes on each other, there's a really unfounded dormant romance vibe.

In the first half hour or so of the movie, everything about it feels unconvincing, and not quite right. The lack of conviction extends into all corners, but this romance storyline takes the cake. It just seems unwarranted for the two characters to open that can of worms - they're cousins, and in this day in age, it's pretty frowned upon. But it seems that because they've got nothing much else to do, they go there. This is, in my opinion, gaping hole number two, because there just isn't a compelling case made for the taboo attraction. 

Before long, suspicious Government activity seen on the news comes to a head in the form of explicit nuclear war between unspecified forces. Precipitation of ash and explosions in nearby paddocks lead to the forceful removal of the five kids from their countryside haven, at which point Daisy is split from her Eddie. From there, drama ensues, and graphic war scenery replaces the brief distraction from misery Daisy has been enjoying in her newfound love interest. 

Indeed, the film is beautifully shot in a grittily realistic style, and once the survival phase of the story begins, it's gripping and graphically tense. Paired with her youngest cousin Piper, Daisy escapes from a Government camp and they commence a treacherous journey back to the farm, where they believe they will be reunited with the other half of their party.

Gaping hole number three lies in the circumstances surrounding this war that's going on. The speculative sub-plot of nuclear war is an interesting one, because it creates a post-apocalyptic setting, without compromising the realism of the storyline. But it merely remains a catalyst for Daisy's coming-of-age journey from a sullen teen to a level-headed adult with perspective. Admittedly, this transformation is probably what (sort of) redeemed the film for me, because my initial dislike for the character was definitely overshadowing the film's merits.

Nonetheless, Ronan's portrayal of Daisy is unconvincing. For a character that starts out as unlikeable as Daisy, I think sooner or later there needs to be a little elaboration on her past. But there wasn't, resulting in gaping hole number four - insufficient insight into the character psyche. Of course, being adapted from a novel, it's likely that a lot of the story's complexity was lost in translation. I didn't read the novel, and I was aware of gaping holes... Not those thought-provoking gaps that are often good in films, just unaddressed, gaping holes.

Despite these flaws that have really dominated the review, the film had strengths - one being that it was absolutely not a bore to watch. The opening sequence had some nice rhythmic editing, with a well-matched soundtrack, and the graphic violence was hair-raising without being gratuitous. Worth a watch, particularly if you've read the novel.


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