Review: How I Live Now

Poster for 2013 drama film How I Live Now

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 15
UK Release Date: 4th October 2013
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Kevin MacDonald
Writer: Jeremy Brock, Tony Grisoni, Penelope Skinner
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, George MacKay, Tom Holland, Harley Bird
Synopsis: A tight-knit family of kids is torn apart by the authorities when nuclear war comes to the UK and must battle to get back together.


The trailers for How I Live Now give a slightly skewed idea of what the eventual film is. Sun-dappled meadows, kissing couples and only brief hints of nuclear devastation suggested a quirky drama that festival audiences would lap up. In actuality, the film is kooky with an edge; an indefinable mean streak that makes it a very interesting experience indeed.

Moody American teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) travels to the English countryside to stay with her cousins: charming Isaac (Tom Holland), irritating young Piper (Harley Bird) and the brooding, handsome Edmond (George MacKay). When a nuclear device explodes in London and martial law is established, the family are torn apart and vow to get back together somehow.

There’s an interesting and bizarre dichotomy raging at the heart of How I Live Now. On the one hand, it really wants to be a teen romance that can hoover up the audience who miss Twilight a little too much, but on the other, it wants to embrace the black heart of its setting and produce something thoroughly dark. That problem may be taken from Meg Rosoff’s award-winning source novel, but it still niggles from the start.

It has to be said, though, that this could be the film that finally cements Saoirse Ronan as one of cinema’s fastest rising stars. After dealing with subpar scripts such as The Host, this is a mature role that casts her against type as a proper moody bitch with issues. And she nails it. It’s a testament to her acting that the cousin on cousin relationship feels believably conflicted.

Ample support is provided by Tom Holland, adorably geeky after his heart-breaking turn in The Impossible and Peppa Pig star Harley Bird as the sweet little girl who manages to make Daisy see that she doesn’t need to hate the world. The only weak link is George MacKay, although his mute surliness may be down to bad direction given the strength of his showing in Sunshine On Leith.

How I Live Now is at its wonderful best when it gets to showcase its darkness. Scenes that display the true horrors of war are beautifully realised and really hit hard. It’s just unfortunate that the finale steers the audience away from this reality and back to fluff.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Whilst it certainly isn’t free of saccharine, Hollywood fluff, How I Live Now is for the most part an interesting depiction of war and its realities. The performances are mostly great, including the scintillating Saoirse Ronan, and there is real emotional depth lurking amongst the lens flare.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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