Are we all getting sick of teenage romances yet? I have a feeling that there was a time before Twilight and Hunger Games and Divergent, etc. when teenage romances were only really relevant to teenagers. Then I remember Romeo and Juliet, so never mind. The point is, they shouldn’t be relevant to ANYONE. Especially not teenagers. But especially not adults. They’re dumb, and based on fleeting hormonal infatuations and not actual feelings. Teenagers never stop to think about anything and their relationships are stupid. Okay. I’ve said my bit.
How I Live Now (2013)
The Plot: Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is an American teenager (and her American accent is actually flawless, so props to her) who’s sent to England to spend the summer with her cousins Isaac (Tom Holland), Piper (Harley Bird), and the older, quiet, mysterious, and sexy(?) Edmond (George MacKay). Her cousins gradually whittle away at her petulant teenage shell and…she…kinda…falls in love with Edmond. Then World War 3 erupts and the kids have to go on the run! Will this fragile incestuous romance survive the war? Will the children survive the war? Who exactly is Britain at war with? Is this another coming of age story?
Admittedly, I should have done a bit more research before devoting an hour and forty minutes of my life towards watching this movie. That one’s on me. I was unaware of the half-baked romance, just as I was unaware of the fact that this movie was based on a young adult novel. Had I known one of those facts, I would have been able to figure out the other for myself. All I heard going in was, “Saoirse Ronan! Kevin Macdonald (director)! World War 3!” And I thought to myself, “Hm, yeah, alright.” Those elements by themselves are just as promising as I interpreted them. World War 3 would be a kind of innocuous vehicle for a character-centered narrative, but could be used to make some broader commentary about—oh, I don’t know—real world issues? Instead, it serves its purpose as a vehicle for a smaller story, but the story is so small that the implications of a World War are just kind of left at the side. In the end (spoiler alert) the whole thing just kind of blows over after what seems like maybe a couple of months. Moreover, this is all being sacrificed for the sake of a character-centered narrative that isn’t all the interesting to begin with. Also, yeah, Britain is at war with “terrorists.” World War 3, everyone: Britain vs. Terrorists.
As for Kevin Macdonald, he can be pretty hit-or-miss. He’s a great visual director, but often leaves characterization on the sidelines, as in this film. I actually quite liked his 2011 Channing Tatum-starring Roman adventure film The Eagle, and my understanding of The Last King of Scotland is that it is a quality piece. I found One Day in September a bit… tactless? Yeah, tactless. The impression I got of How I Live Now is that he regressed into hack mode, competently doing what needed to be done without any flair or finesse. He also made no effort to use his directorial skills to enhance or improve the severely lacking screenplay. There were a few badly written scenes that could have been saved by good direction, but Macdonald just didn’t try. He makes one unforgivable sin after another in the film’s final sequence, which goes montage (I think the film’s fifth one) a voice-over a title-drop a freeze frame. Who gave that the go ahead?
This film is almost nothing, but it would truly be nothing without Saoirse Ronan, who, bless her young Irish heart, really gives it her all. Her performance totally outclasses everyone else in the film, except maybe Tom Holland, but he’s not in the movie for very long. Holland starred alongside Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor in 2012’s The Impossible, delivering a solid performance and even holding his own against talented and experienced veterans. I look forward to his developing career and hope he gets more work in better movies than How I Live Now. Ronan’s going to be just fine, I think. Later this year, she’s starring alongside Christina Hendricks, Eva Mendes, and Matt Smith in Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut, which looks, in the words of Rooster Illusion himself, “Somewhere between Refn and Lynch.”
So yeah, in conclusion, I’m really looking forward to Ryan Gosling’s movie. Even if it’s bad, it’ll probably be better than How I Live Now.