"Love will lead you home."
How I Live Now is kind of a difficult film to categorize while at the same time it is also very hard to connect with. Scottish director, Kevin Macdonald, who has had some hits (The Last King of Scotland) and some misses (The Eagle) delivers a film that I would rank in the middle, not as good as his best movies, but not as bad either. It is hard to categorize because it stays away from generic formulas by combining classic teenage romantic elements in an indie style apocalyptic universe. It's this ideal and peaceful world that Macdonald presents that is all of a sudden interrupted by a meaningless war creating a pretty powerful metaphor with some strong imagery. But at the same time the film is also very hard to connect with because the main character is introduced as a hateful and guarded teenager who slowly begins to change when she falls in love with her cousin. I found the film tolerable thanks to Saoirse Ronan's lead performance. She is one of the most talented teenage actresses of our time and is always dependable (except for The Host, which was a film that no one could have saved). Her performance was the highlight of the film and despite how hateful her character was at the beginning of the film she quickly grew on me. She shines in a film that changes tones and moods very quickly and Ronan is just captivating despite all the issues I had with this film.
Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is an American teenager who is sent to England to spend the summer with her cousins at their countryside home. She doesn't seem very excited about her trip and alienates herself from her family when she first arrives. The house is kind of a mess as her aunt (Anna Chancellor) is very busy and her cousins pretty much take care of themselves and their many pets. She begins to fall for her oldest cousin, Eddie (George MacKay), who treats her well despite her initial withdrawal. As days pass she begins to warm up to her younger cousins, Isaac (Tom Holland) and Piper (Harley Bird), and soon enough she begin to enjoy what seems to be a perfect summer. Their ideal world changes when a nuclear bomb explodes in the city and a major war breaks out. Daisy and her cousins will now have to learn how to survive in this dangerous world that begins closing in on them violently.
How I Live Now was adapted by Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland) from Meg Rosoff's 2004 apocalyptic novel of the same name. In my opinion the screenplay didn't translate very well during some scenes, especially those involving Daisy's thoughts which sometimes reminded me of Ronan's work in The Host where she would talk to her other self. These scenes where we could hear her thinking about all the rules she needed to follow were pointless and kind of took me out of the story. The love story was also pretty weird considering she begins a relationship with her cousin and never has second thoughts about incest or anything like that. The film never tries to explore these issues, it simply tells a story through her eyes. What did work for me were the scenes in the beautiful English countryside and how the director focused on this family without shifting to a big scale during the war. It remained small and focused on these characters. The film also took me by surprise during some scenes as it shifted in tones quite a bit. Overall I thought it was an average anti-war film that will be enjoyed mostly by Ronan fans.