How I Live Now (2013) — Love in a post-nuclear English countryside

“It’s like I said all that time ago, if the world doesn’t end I wanna be here at home, with you. And that’s how I live now.”

Justin’s rating: This is how I get depressed now

Justin’s review: I’ll say that as a film reviewer, it’s always far easier to cover a movie when you either really like it or really hate it. Either one of those gives you a clear path to talking about it. But what about movies where you’re genuinely torn about whether or not it’s good? If there are things in it that are well-done and intriguing — but also questionable and maddening? Then it becomes a tougher endeavor to navigate through this rocky terrain to properly convey mixed feelings on a subject.

If you couldn’t tell, How I Live Now is one of those personally divisive flicks that frustrate me. It’s a frustrating movie, because while it’s overall subject is captivating, the lens through which it examines it is annoying.

This is a film that has this massive global event occur — nuclear bombs! terrorist poisonings! wars! — and refuses to tell us most of the details about it, preferring instead to focus on a deeply unpleasant protagonist and her love affair with her cousin. Yeah, it’s one of those movies.

At the start of How I Live Now, American teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is shipped off by her father to spend some time living with her largely unknown cousins in the English countryside. On medication and with voice barking in her head, Daisy scowls and condescends her way into a household of kids and their mostly unseen mother. She’s such a horrid brat at the start, and while she does soften up somewhat, some of this brattiness remains with her throughout the entire tale.

Thanks to handsome hunk cousin Eddie (George MacKay), Daisy gets out of her shell and starts to fit into the tranquil outdoors adventures and play of the family (which includes a pre-Spider-Man Tom Holland!). She also gets into a dubiously illegal relationship with Eddie, of which she — like many teens — becomes obsessed with as the be-all, end-all of her personhood. This first half of the movie is filmed with a camera that replicates the warmer, fuzzier old-school recording devices, and if you didn’t know what was coming, you might think that this is just a summertime romance advocating for incest.

But it’s not that kind of movie, because one afternoon when Daisy’s aunt has been called away to Geneva, a nuclear device is set off in London, the country falls under martial law, and some sort of war breaks out. As I said before, this is infuriating because the movie only gives us the barest scraps of the broader story without ever explaining it (or having the characters ask soldiers and adults for news). We never find out who is attacking, if this involves the world outside of England, or what have you. It’s deliberately kept to the point of view of a surly teen and her unhealthy crush.

So the girls get separated from the guys due to forced relocation, and the rest of the movie is a depressing road trip where Daisy reluctantly assumes guardianship over her little cousin and drags her across the countryside to get back home. There are several horrid little scenes, each one hinting but not saying at something happening on a greater scale, but none of it matters because dang it, Daisy has to get home and snog her cousin!

I guess I didn’t like it. Rather, I liked parts of it but not the sum total. The non-Daisy characters were very likable, and I’m always a sucker for an apocalyptic scenario. But what I got here wasn’t what I had hoped to see.

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