HOW I LIVE NOW: 2 ½ STARS. ” beautiful to look at, but low on any real substance.”
Saoirse Ronan is just movie away from being a superstar. I’m convinced that with the right choices this talented young Irish actor could be a Kristen Stewart level a-lister.
Trouble is, of late she’s been the best thing in a series of movies that people didn’t see. “Violet and Daisy,” “Byzantium” and “The Host”—which was positioned as the start of a “Twilight” style franchise before audiences ran the other way—all underperformed, adding little luster to her star.
In “How I Live Today” she hands in another great performance, made all the more impressive as she wrings it out of a movie that is beautiful to look at, but low on any real substance.
In “How I Live Now” she plays Daisy, an anxiety-ridden New York teen sent to live with her aunt and cousin in the English countryside by her disinterested dad and his new wife. She wears her lack of self esteem like a badge. “I’m a curse,” she says, “everywhere I go bad [things] happen.”
Just as she starts to bond with her young cousins Piper (Harley Bird) and Isaac (Tom Holland) and REALLY bond (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) with hunky Eddie (George MacKay), something bad does happen. Their bucolic life is torn apart after terrorists ignite a nuclear bomb in London, killing tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands.
The country falls under military law and soon the cousins are separated by gender and sent to work camps. As they are being torn apart Eddie and daisy make a deal to meet back at the country house, no mater what it takes to get there.
Surrounded by terror and uncertainty Daisy digs deep into “Dr. Phil” style pop psychology—“Take the bad,” she says, “put it in a box and focus on the good.”—to morph from angst ridden teen to Survivorwoman to find her way back “home” and reunite her new family.
When she is not pouting or in Eddie’s capable arms, Ronan spends most of her onscreen time on a dangerous trek with preteen Piper. It’s here her character gets interesting thanks to Ronan’s subtle but intriguing performance, but director Kevin “The Last King of Scotland” Macdonald’s reliance on musical montages to move the action forward, while beautiful, get in the way of the actors creating really memorable moments.
The actors are all good looking, as is the movie, but the visuals aren’t of the show-me-don’t-tell-me type, they’re more like cinematic wallpaper. It’s a treat for the eyes, but rings hollow in the story and character department.
For example, Daisy is a classic teen over thinker. We know this because McDonald adds in the ghostly voice of her inner mind on the soundtrack, and yet, (SPOILER ALERT) after she shoots two men dead there’s barely a second thought given to the murders.
Ronan is gifted, and will one day find the role to make her a star, unfortunately for all it’s visual panache, “How I Live Now” isn’t it.