Plot-wise, not a lot separates Kevin MacDonald’s “How I Live Now” from prestige film “Atonement.” (And yes, going beyond the fact that both feature Saoirse Ronan.) The two films feature the discovery of young, passionate love that gets torn asunder by global warfare. Rather than follow the male into battle, both choose to focus primarily on the female experience on the outskirts of the conflict, where they pine for the restoration of a harmonious world.
But execution and tone set them apart. “How I Live Now” takes place in a nondescript, undeveloped dystopian present-day that erupts into World War III, and it feels more like a bad plot device than any meaningful social commentary. The film is based on a YA novel by Meg Rosoff, and MacDonald struggles to transcend those origins – try as he might to make it more adult with a more tense R-rating.
Ronan gives it her all, too, as protagonist Daisy, a constantly put-out teen who finds meaning in romance with George MacKay’s Eddie after being unceremoniously shipped across the sea to the U.K. But even acting the heck out of her character does not change the fact that Daisy is a whiny, angst-ridden adolescent whose idea of real love is fantasizing about Eddie’s shirtless torso. It may be tough for her to be a young person in a world forcing her to grow up and face the ugliness of humanity. However, it is probably tougher for “How I Live Now” being a teen movie and trying to parade around as a tale for adults. B- /