I’ll be quite honest about one thing: I am not a huge, huge fan of YA film adaptations. After hating The Hunger Games film, I opted to skip the second one (I still have not seen Catching Fire). I’ve also skipped out on Divergent, The Mortal Instruments, and Vampire Academy. A lot of these films aim to be a blockbuster hit, without really giving much consideration to the book itself. (On a side note, I did enjoy The Fault in Our Stars…) So when I stumbled upon HOW I LIVE NOW on Netflix, I decided to give it a go when I saw that Saoirse Ronan was playing the lead. I generally think that she’s a pretty good actress despite the fact that she was in the adaptation of The Host (which was probably not all her fault that the movie was terrible…).
I heard about the film adaptation of HOW I LIVE NOW (a novel by Meg Rosoff) right after I had read the book, but I never really heard about its release in the US. HOW I LIVE NOW is the story of an American teen, Daisy (Saoirse Ronan), who is visiting her family in the English countryside. The country is on the brink of the war, and her aunt is whisked away to Geneva for business. When terrorists attack London, Daisy and her cousins are cut away from the rest of the world. They learn to survive until the war reaches them and they are torn apart. Daisy and her younger cousin Piper try to reunite with the rest of the family amidst the war.
Saoirse Ronan was a great leading lady. I think she definitely captured the voice and angst of Daisy. The screenplay was well-written and managed to capture her voice, even though the novel is written in first-person perspective. Ronan is such an emotive actress that we don’t constantly need a voice over to figure out what she’s feeling about a certain situation. Her acting in HOW I LIVE NOW was definitely a vast improvement over The Host.
I think that romance in the film actually transcends the romance in the book. While Daisy and Eddie (George MacKay) have good chemistry in the book, it wasn’t enough for me to forget that they are first cousins. My dislike of the romance really prevented me from liking the book more than I would have liked. However, in the film, Ronan and MacKay have great on-screen chemistry, and I was able to overlook the fact that their romance is forbidden.
One of the ways the film is very effective are the striking contrasts from scene to scene. After the war starts, it’s almost easy to forget that it ever happened in the countryside. The scenes are bright and warm, conveying a sense of whimsy. When the family gets split apart, Daisy and Piper are taken away. The reality of the war hits Daisy and Piper. The following scenes are dark and somber.
I was also impressed by the musical score of the film. Music was used effectively to keep viewers in suspense. In contrast, the lack of music in other parts portrayed the sense of solitude and the emptiness of the countryside.
Overall, the film captures the mood and tone of the novel. The director, Kevin Macdonald, made a great adaptation that was still faithful to the book.
Note: This film is rated R in the US – mostly for language. Daisy loves the F-word. There is one sex scene in the film but it’s really PG-13.