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Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay, Anna Chancellor, Harley Bird
Synopsis: An American girl sent to the English countryside to stay with relatives finds herself fighting for her survival as the UK turns into a violent military state.
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: The more movies I take in the less surprised I seem to be. When you think about it, isn’t everything just a variation on the same several plot points across a limited amount of genre categories? That’s why when I catch a movie that surprises me, I tend to sit up a little straighter in my seat and find that I’m willing to give myself over a little more to it.
I didn’t know what to expect from How I Live Now before I saw it at the 2013 Twin Cities Film Festival. I had read a little about it and knew that it was adapted from a YA novel penned by Meg Rosoff but I deliberately skipped watching the trailer and generally avoided anything that might give away too much, lest I go in with certain expectations that wouldn’t, couldn’t be met. When you’re as into movies as I am, this lack of knowledge can sometimes be a huge gift and it’s probably the reason I wound up liking the movie as much as I did.
Though she started out 2013 in a blah adaptation of another popular YA novel (The Host – for which my negative review inspired an unhappy fan to say they wanted to punch me in the face), Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan comes back swinging here with a performance unafraid to be unlikable. She’s a temperamental (read: bitchy) American girl visiting her aunt and cousins in their quaint English countryside estate when nuclear war breaks out in major cities around the world.
That’s about all you’ll need to know before seeing where How I Live Now takes this character and charts her experiences as she struggles to come to grips that her life will never be the same. Where the first half of the film has the audience reeling at how bitter Ronan’s character is (we get the sense that her widowed father shipped her away for some peace and quiet), the second half turns the tables and easily wins the viewer back to Ronan’s side.
There’s nice support from a largely unknown and young cast who handle the harrowing material very well. I liked Tom Holland’s performance in 2012’s The Impossible and he does equally strong work here as Ronan’s sensitive younger cousin. George MacKay rises above his characters questionable relationship with Ronan and tiny Harley Bird survives several scary scenes where her character is in grave danger.
The movie struggles with some tonal shifts that may be a little hard for people to roll with. One moment it’s a dark comedy, the next a survivalist tale before switching to human drama and then into a dewey (and kind eeeewy) romance. Even so, there was something about how director Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland) keeps everything afloat and slightly off balance that had me modestly mesmerized. I wasn’t sure how the movie would end or if I’d even be happy with the resolution but thankfully the wrap-up makes sense as it aligns with everything that came before it.
You probably missed this one during its brief run in theaters but if you happen to be browsing your local Blockbuster (whoops!) I mean, your local Redbox or Netflix queue this one might be a more than pleasant surprise. After all, it’s always the movies you are least expecting that find a way to sneak up on you.