When Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) goes to stay with her cousins in England, you think you’re about to undertake a typical, clichéd coming of age story. Daisy is stubborn, hardened against this cynical world, and dripping with teenage angst. Listening to her whine about the state of her family’s English cottage, their jeep, or the contents of their fridge is quite a chore. Things start to get more interesting when England is attacked by an atomic weapon and invaded by terrorists. Who these terrorists are, where they come from, and what they want are all a complete mystery. Unfortunately, this original take on the coming of age movie does not make the film good.
Starting with the premise, it’s really annoying that the audience knows nothing about these terrorists. It might be acceptable if the ominous, mostly absent enemy worked as a metaphor for these batch of children not fully understanding the scope of what’s going on, but they do run into adults, who could give them information and help clue in the audience as to exactly what’s going on, but simply choose not to. This aspect of the film feels like a missed opportunity to help the audience understand exactly what’s at stake.
Again, I give the film credit for trying to do something new by having Daisy’s love interest be her oldest cousin, Eddie (George MacKay). With the world ending around them, it makes a certain kind of sense that these characters would try to find comfort wherever they can. It might be too taboo for the average audience, but I found it effective. My only problem is that the two actors’ performances aren’t good enough to sell the internal debate of pursuing this kind of relationship. The chemistry between them feels flat and when half the film is dedicated to Daisy trying to get back to Eddie, it makes me much less interested in how it’s all going to turn out.
Rather than following a standard 3 act structure, How I Live Now feels more like 3 completely different films. First, we have the coming of age story, where our bitter heroine tries to come to terms with her new life. Then we have the terrorist attack and her embracing these virtual strangers as the most important people in her life. Then they get separated and it becomes a film about finding your way home. While there are themes pulling us from section to section of the film, the haphazard structure feels muddy, and gives the characters few opportunities for personal development.
Available on blu-ray and DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment on February 11