“War is hell, peace is hell, love is hell — oh what the hell.”
Daisy (Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones) is sent away by her father to spend the summer with her cousins in the English countryside. Initially brooding and distant, Daisy slowly begins to bond with her newly found family — especially cousin Eddie (George MacKay), and the two fall in love. But their peaceful existence doesn’t last. After a terrorist’s nuclear bomb hits England, the country is plunged into war, Marshall Law is instituted, and the cousins are separated; the girls going to one camp while Eddie and his younger brother Isaac (Tom Holland) are sent to another. Before they’re taken away however, Eddie and Daisy promise to return to the farmhouse as soon as each can get away. After Daisy and her younger cousin Piper (Harley Bird) manage to escape their captivity, the two fight through some dangerous situations to get back home, where they hope to find Isaac and Eddie waiting there for them.
How I Live Now is based on Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel of the same name. This part teen angst, part love, and part war story is bolstered by the fabulous performance of 20-year-old Saoirse (pronounced “seer-sha”) Ronan, who, as Daisy, commands the screen like a seasoned professional. Her portrayal of a troubled girl who hears voices, pops anxiety pills, and believes that she is a curse that killed her mother during childbirth is incredibly engrossing. We watch as Daisy transforms into a pillar of strength who becomes a protector for Piper as they make their way home again.
When Daisy first arrives, Eddie appears to be sullen and aloof, staring at her as if he didn’t want her there at all. In truth, he is one of the few people who really understands his cousin. The penetrating gaze is his way of seeing inside her, it’s as if they have some kind of mental connection, because Eddie can hear the troubled thoughts going on inside Daisy’s head. Although Eddie is Daisy’s first cousin (her mother and his mother are sisters), the film deftly handles this forbidden love in a way that neither condemns nor condones the relationship. Putting aside your personal feelings about first cousins in a love relationship, these two aren’t sure if they’ll live another day, so when the dust settles and Daisy sees that Eddie understands her like no other human being on the planet, you can’t blame them for turning to each other for comfort. Probably under less life-threatening circumstances, they may have thought better of entering into such a controversial relationship.
Thanks to Rosoff’s novel and Kevin Macdonald’s direction, there is a quiet beauty to How I Live Now that overcomes the invasion by an unseen enemy. It starts with the beautiful farmland the cousins live on, and the bond that manifests itself even before the war. Daisy’s Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is rarely around, even before the attack. She has a job that requires her to travel quite a bit, recently spending most of her time working in Oslo trying to stop any impending attack. This leaves Eddie, Isaac, and Piper to care for each other in her absence, and once Daisy arrives she and Eddie become pseudo parents to Isaac and Piper.
The performances of MacKay and Holland are solid; both young men bring a warmth and a depth to their characters that feels very real. Isaac is a sweet boy who lets all the insults Daisy hurls at him just roll off his back; he loves her in spite of them. Eddie helps her let go of a past that includes a disinterested father and guilt she can’t shake.
The performance I love second only to Ronan’s is that by young Harley Bird, who plays the bubbly and always positive Piper. Her role brings levity to a very serious film that could’ve been a downer without her. My favorite scene is the one where Piper wants to show Daisy her unicorn. Aww…how sweet, she wants to show her big cousin her favorite stuffed animal. But Piper is a unique girl, and no stuffed unicorn will do when a real one is right under her nose. As she shows Daisy to her room, this unicorn meanders into the house, and what we see is a goat with a cone shaped object attached to its head. It’s a very funny scene that shows Piper has not lost the traits of a sweet and happy little girl with a vivid imagination, even though she lacks the constant presence of a mom and a dad, not to mention the fact that she gets caught up in the middle of a war.
How I Live Now (Blu-ray) is brought to us in a crisp and clean 1.85:1/1080p presentation. Pre-war, the colors are bright and vivid, but once the country falls under a terrorist attack, Macdonald uses blue hues and darker shading to differentiate between those two experiences. The DTS 5.1 Master Audio highlights wonderfully written dialogue while at the same time showcases an amazing musical soundtrack that includes great songs like “Do it with a Rockstar” by Amanda Palmer and “Tam Lin” by Fairport Convention. Extras include cast and crew interviews, some a little long winded and repetitive, the best being the interview with author Meg Rosoff. Something I haven’t seen before in the special features is a picture in picture comparison of scenes being filmed and the final results. But wait, there’s more! A few deleted scenes, a Making of Featurette, an AXS TV look at How I Live Now, plus the original trailer.
You may find it hard to believe that a movie where a nuclear bomb is dropped and kids are put into prison-style camps can be a beautiful film going experience. But How I Live Now is just that, a touching look at a rag-tag group of cousins trying to live together as a family while the world around them is falling apart.
How I judge this movie? Not Guilty.
How I Live Now (Blu-ray)
2014, Magnolia Pictures, 101 minutes, R (2013)
VIDEO: 1.85:1 (1080p) AUDIO: DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English) SUBTITLES: English (SDH), Spanish
EXTRAS: Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Interviews, Trailer ACCOMPLICES: IMDB
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site
* Facebook Page