Just as the angst filled main character of How I Live Now is constantly thrown into situations that seem beyond her understanding, this apocalyptic teen romance tale wastes dynamic energy and aesthetic skill on an ultimately cliché script.
In the film’s opening moments we are introduced to our lead character Daisy, played by Saorise Ronan (Hanna, The Lovely Bones), and the tense world she inhabits. As she enters a busy England airport, loud punk rock music reverberates through her headphones, drowning out the noisy world of soldiers and signs of impending doom that surround her. Immediately the filmmakers let the audience know what they are in for, a story of a naïve and damaged teen navigating a world on the verge of destruction.
During the first act of the film we learn that Daisy has been sent by her American father to live with her aunt and her eccentric country family in a small village house in England. Loud explosions of inner voices and rituals that Daisy performs over and over again lets the audience in on the fact that she has OCD, but the device never really ends up amounting to much, and by the last act all but disappears. This issue continues to occur throughout the film, with the seemingly random introduction of plot devices that are forgotten shortly after their introduction. The sudden abandonment of seemingly important details is a harbinger of how the film will treat many of its creative decisions
The set-up of the film is ultimately meant to fill us in on two things: that England and the rest of the world are on the brink of a violent global war, and that her “step” cousin, a tall, strong, silent type ginger boy who tames hawks is to be her love interest. These initial moments of the film are actually rather charming, with the characters having a strong sense of personality, and the different children each demonstrating their own interesting quirks. The contrasting settings of the farm house and the surrounding violent world aren’t exactly convincing, but are engaging nonetheless. Unfortunately once the world finally collapses into a chaotic mess, so does the film and all its individualistic charm.
Once Daisy leaves the safe and romantic setting of the farm house, she is thrown into the war torn chaos of an England in the midst of violent conflict. It is in this war saga that the film reveals a script that is awkwardly convenient and rather sexist. The film devolves from a naïve romance story set in a tense environment, into a story of a damaged female teenager who can only be saved by the love of a man, as Daisy sets out to find a way back to the farm house and her fiery headed hunk.
From the vague characterization of the film’s villains (Who are they? What are their political motivations?) to its forced, heavy-handed dialogue in the second half of the film, How I Live Now lacks a cohesive vision. It feels as if the film is being written by entirely different people at times, and in fact it is. Three screenwriters share the credit for this screenplay and the lack of continuity in tone and theme demonstrated in the script may have very well started here.
Thematically the filmmakers seem to be trying to get at the inner thoughts of teenagers growing up in a violent modern world, but the end result is more of a schlocky teenage romance than it is a story presenting any sound political statement. Compromising at every turn to be accessible, the final product is similar in tone to other recent pseudo-political teen fare such as The Hunger Games or Warm Bodies. Aiming to please everyone, you get the large action set pieces for the boys, and the clichéd romantic arc for the girls; and in the end, the rest of what happens never really seems to matter.