** (out of four)
It’s tough to forget Saoirse Ronan’s three 2013 stinkers for long during “How I Live Now,” which in its first 15 minutes features her character blabbering in voiceover (“The Host”), insisting on being called Daisy (“Violet and Daisy”) and being asked if she’s a vampire (“Byzantium”). That’s almost too coincidental to be a coincidence.
“How I Live Now” registers as the best of the lot, but that’s faint praise. Grumpy, anti-social Daisy (Ronan) calls her dad a [bleep], and she seems to be right: He sends her to live with her stepcousins in the English countryside despite the widespread military presence and bombings taking place in this near-future world. Eddie (George MacKay), who kind of looks like Ron Weasley if he’d grown up handsomer, takes an interest in Daisy—when he’s not healing a hawk with a broken wing and communicating with cows or something. Based on the pair’s minimal interactions, it seems this guy probably would take an interest in any teenage girl who showed up.
After a nuclear bomb kills thousands in London—prompting Eddie’s younger sister, Piper (Harley Bird), to ask, “What’s a nucular?”—the young family members hole up together until gunfire and soldiers divide them. Will Daisy and Piper find their way back to Eddie and his brother, Isaac (Tom Holland), before anyone’s killed? Or at least before Daisy freaks out at her young companion, who doesn’t want to walk day in and day out?
Ronan’s long journey on foot somewhat recalls the superior “The Way Back,” though Daisy gradually opening up to the world and taking responsibility for her family registers as the film’s only effective emotional component. Director Kevin Macdonald (“The Last King of Scotland”) and a trio of writers adapt Meg Rosoff’s novel without justifying (to those who haven’t read it, like myself) the romantically tinged view of kids during wartime for a story that’s totally apolitical. “How I Live Now” contains no information about the largely unseen enemy, but this seems like an oversight rather than a choice.
Something the writers should have chosen is to not end the movie—MINI-SPOILER ALERT SORT OF—with a voiceover from Daisy saying how she lives now. Don’t include the title of the movie in the last line that’s spoken! You wouldn’t want “Star Wars” to end with Luke saying in voiceover, “Well, those were some wild star wars.”
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