Now(t) is Good
Dakota Fanning stars in the British big screen adaptation of Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, albeit more cheerfully entitled Now is Good. Directed by scriptwriter Ol Parker (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), the film is a tear-jerkingly predictable drama about a teenager with Leukaemia. Reminiscent of an old US after school special, Now is Goodnot only gently tackles terminal illness, but also teenage pregnancy and familial dysfunction. Somehow, Parker’s film manages to make all three topics entirely and equally uninteresting.
An intentionally awkward start sets the level of nonsense to come as Fanning’s Tessa seeks to lose her virginity, much like the lads of American Pie, except here graduation is replaced by death and it’s devoid of humour, pastry-based or otherwise. A three dimensionally rendered animation that should be subtitled “Run, Dakota, Run” follows and is, without any real competition, Now is Good’s strongest scene. A clumsy talk-radio interview unloads all the details of Tessa’s backstory, which amounts roughly to: she decided to stop her treatment and now has a bucket list of experiences to have before she kicks said bucket. Paddy Considine proves to be the film’s lone interesting character in the role of Tessa’s overbearing father. Divorced from Olivia Williams’ equally nameless “Mother” and racked with denial and grief, he clings to the hope that his daughter might yet overcome her illness. This blind-optimism goes unappreciated by Tessa, who is soon cozying up with the next-door neighbour, Adam (Jeremy Irvine), who, it just so happens, has recently been doing some grieving of his own. Who knew life on the sea-front could be so melodramatic?
It’s best to acknowledge, before continuing, what little that does work in Now is Good- primarily Considine and Fanning. His performance is the only one that brings any real entertainment to the 100 minutes of pseudo-inspirational story-telling. Fanning is perfectly fine as she takes a dead-serious (pardon the pun) attitude to her role. She certainly has the chops to portray what should have been a complex and moving character, however, it is odd that an otherwise fully British film should draft in an American for the lead. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that Fanning has such a poorly developed protagonist to work with. What is typically packaged as teenage rebellion is here painted as living life to the fullest and somehow meant to move the audience. At one point a home pregnancy test is shoplifted, because that’s what the kids do these days, apparently. Fulfilling the obligatory drugs sequence is a foray into a forest whilst on mushrooms that may well be the dullest scene depicting drug use ever committed to film. As an added bonus, much of this is set to possibly the worst soundtrack of the year.
As the love-interest, the sheepish Irvine paints a sheepishly sheepish picture of a young man that, even when scared or sad, cannot look anything but sheepish. That may not actually be a part of the character, but it’s more or less implied by Irvine’s unrelenting sheepishness. Irvine fans can rest assured that, whilst he may not be gazing longingly at any equines, he does share screen time with a few fillies in a truly tacky moment that will surely induce many a groan. It’s one of many scenes that refuse to allow the story to breathe on its own without pumping it full of saccharine schmaltz. There’s quite a beautiful scene near the end of the film, that would have served to be a tasteful, touching close had that actually been where the credits begin to roll. Unfortunately, Parker drags the audience along to the bitter, predictable finale that is wholly unnecessary.
Now is Good fails to connect emotionally due to shallow characters and a plot that never earns the sentimentality it attempts to wring out of its audience. Fanning and Considine prevent the film from being entirely unwatchable, but there’s nothing here that’s particularly recommendable. If now really is good, it’s probably time to substantially raise the bar. 5/10