A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that How I Live Now is a wartime relationship drama set in the near future based on an award-winning young adult novel. The film adaptation doesn't shy away from the mature elements in the story: (semi-related) teens have sex, war breaks out, teen and adult characters die or live in constant peril, and there's a lot of strong language. The main love scene between two teens is discrete, and mostly in shadow, but audiences can see their bare backs, legs, kissing, and hear moaning. There's also passionate kissing and frequent use of "f--k," "a--hole," "s--t," and other expletives. The violence is realistic and disturbing and includes corpses and a potential rape. Parents and mature teens will have plenty to discuss about the nature of war, the importance of belonging, and the intensity of first love after the movie.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In HOW I LIVE NOW, troubled American teen Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) is shipped off to the English countryside to stay with her relatives. At first Daisy is unimpressed by her Aunt Penn (Anna Chancellor), an overworked terrorism expert, and self-sufficient step-cousins: handsome Edmond (George MacKay), gentle Isaac (Tom Holland), and chatty young Piper (Harley Bird). Things take an unexpected turn when World War III breaks out while Aunt Penn is abroad, England closes its borders and imposes martial law, and Daisy finds herself passionately drawn to Edmund. But the torrid first love is short-lived when soldiers arrive to send the girls to a foster home and the boys to a labor farm.
Is it any good?
As in the book, ugly things happen in this film, and it's best for mature high schoolers and adults. Rosoff's book is a difficult one to adapt, with its outbreak of World War III, lyrical passages, traces of magical realism, and the torrid sexual relationship between 14- and 15-year-old first cousins. Director Kevin Macdonald ages up the main characters, erases the blood relation (for American audiences, no doubt), and smartly puts the film in the hands of one of Hollywood's most talented young actresses, Academy Award-nominated Saoirse Ronan, who is up to the task of tackling Daisy, an at-times unlikable, inscrutable protagonist.
Ronan's ethereal beauty and natural talent help her carry the dark drama that's part war movie, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale. She has a visceral chemistry with MacKay, and their connection rings true despite how quickly it turns into passion. The movie is reminiscent in tone of Children of Men (but with less violence), and will make audiences think of whether parentless teens and kids could rise to the occasion to protect and care for one another. Once the story transitions from the cousins' light-dappled country house to the temporary residence Daisy and Piper are forced to move to, it shifts from romance into bleak war drama.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether the movie is a war drama, a teen romance, a dystopian story, etc. Which genre does it fit in? The book it's based on is considered young adult, but what about the movie -- is it for a teen audience?
Discuss the romantic teen relationship in the movie. How is adolescent sex portrayed? Is it believable for teens to be drawn to each other under the circumstances?
Those who've read the book: How does the film compare? What do you think of the changes made to the characterizations and the story lines?
- In theaters: November 8, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: February 11, 2014
- Cast: George MacKay, Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland
- Director: Kevin Macdonald
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Brothers and Sisters
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, disturbing image, language and some sexuality.
- Last updated: December 10, 2020
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