Weird love in times of war – ★★½
Kevin Macdonald made his name with the remarkable documentaries One Day in September (2000) and Touching the Void (2003), going on to strike gold with The Last King of Scotland (2006) which drew career-best performances from Forest Whitaker and James McAvoy. He’s hit a bit of a brick wall with his narrative-based work since then with the limp efforts State of Play and The Eagle. He has been redeemed by the unusual crowd-sourced documentary A Life in a Day (2011) and Marley (2012), the wonderful insight into the life of Bob Marley.
In his latest work, an adaptation of Meg Rosoff’s 2004 novel “How I Live Now”, Ireland’s golden girl Saoirse Ronan (who was lucky enough to do a Galway Film Fleadh interview with the two Spoooolers in the audience last July) plays the part of Daisy, a girl sent to the UK to spend a summer with her cousins while her neglectful father remains in the US. She’s a rude, cold, troubled girl who struggles to fit in with her new surroundings until she cracks the shell of Eddie, the oldest of her cousins. They fall for each other, and with the company of younger cousins Isaac (Tom Holland, who you may remember crying and being unspeakably brave in The Impossible) and Piper (Harley Bird), it looks like it’s going to be a pretty good summer. And then World War III breaks out. Literally. Without knowing what’s really happening the kids abandon the farmhouse, fleeing into the countryside to hide out in an old barn. Eventually the authorities find them and divide them up, sending them off to do their bit for the British war effort. The film then becomes about living through this and then trying to get back to that sense of home, and for Daisy, a need to reconnect with Eddie.
I had no idea about the book’s plot and saw the film without a notion of what was going to come, expecting some sort of light-hearted fish-out-of-water teen drama about an American coming to a British farm for the summer. But a looming sense of mystery and doom slowly invades the film, helped on by the mysterious aunt who is some sort of government terrorism and crisis management expert, making late night phone calls to the US with death toll projections. This early part of the films is all handled brilliantly and it’s only when she departs for Geneva or Oslo or somesuch and we’re left with the weird blossoming romance amidst a microcosm of what an unexplained, modern international war would look like that you begin to lose interest.
It may take you a while to get over the fact that Daisy and Eddie are cousins, and that yes, they have sex. Perhaps they’re step-cousins or not related by blood but no-one in the film really elaborates. So who am I to be a prude and bring up the idea of teen incest, albeit consensual teen incest. In the novel Daisy is 15-years-old and Eddie is 14, but it seems they’re a little older here just in case you’re worried about taking the tots to this 15A title.
Despite the heavy themes and subject matter, the film may not stay with you that long after you’ve seen it. But as an unconventional story of young love, it’s actually quite enjoyable. Unusually for her, Ronan’s accent slips a little at times but really that’s about the only fault you can find with another truly stellar performance in one of her most adult roles to date. It’s becoming clearer that Macdonald is better suited to documentary work, but he does an adequate job here as the faults of the film lie with the scriptwriters and how they chose to interpret the rather wacky source material.
Opening nationwide across Ireland on October 4th 2013