Making a movie about someone who’s dying is a tricky business. On one level it’s a subject that involves inherent drama, but equally you don’t want to make something that sounds like such a downer no one will want to watch it. Likewise, you want people to get emotionally involved, but you don’t want it to be so emotionally manipulative and sentimental that people are nauseated rather than moved.
It’s a balance Now Is Good is constantly trying to work out, succeeding better at some times than others.
By the time the film opens, teenage girl Tessa (Dakota Fanning) already knows that she is dying of leukaemia and has decided not to have any more treatments. She’s come up with a bucket things of stuff to do before she dies, such as to take drugs and have sex, which she sets out to do with her friend Zoey (Kaya Scodelario) – although her attempt to lose her virginity doesn’t go too well.
She is angry, confused and initially doesn’t want others to know her prognosis. Then she meet next door neighbour Adam (War Horse’ Jeremy Irvine), and the two cannot deny their attraction. Understandably he’s concerned about getting too close to someone he knows is going to die, but soon they’ve embarked on a full-on romance. Tessa’s father (Paddy Considine) isn’t too impressed with this new relationship, as he’s worried about what will happen if Adam gets scared and leaves her.
Now Is Good often feels trapped between different intentions, both rejecting the maudlin and yet delving headlong into sentimentality; trying to eschew cliché and yet descending deep into it. The result is that while it’s a pretty good movie and will have a lot of people weeping by the end, it spends a lot of time trying laying out its stall to be a different kind of ‘I’m dying’ movie, before grabbing onto every terminal illness chestnut towards the end.
Tessa is initially an interesting character, stuck between simply wanting to be a normal teenage girl and feeling a need to pack in as much as she humanly can while she has the chance. She’s also trapped between a cancer-obsessed father who wants to protect his daughter from the world – something she understandably chafes against – and a mother who cannot handle her child’s illness at all. In reaction to all this her bucket list is initially about rebelling and getting an adrenaline rush.
It’s a potentially interesting character study, but much of that falls by the wayside once Adam arrives on the scene. Most of the edgier, potentially interesting aspects are ditched so that we can head straight into romantic weepy mode, to the point where it feels like a deliberate attempt to make a British Nicholas Sparks-style film. It’s a bit of a shame and Now Is Good definitely cops out a little bit as it realises the rebellious direction it’s taking is going to be difficult to handle once Tessa starts to get seriously ill. If it had kept going with its look at the confusion and anger of a girl who’s already dealing with teenage life and now has to accept she’s dying, the film could have been different and audacious – but equally could have been a complete disaster – so Now Is Good simply reverts to type and goes for something simpler and more sentimental.
It also cops out a bit towards the end, making dying of leukaemia seem a lot more pleasant than it actually is. It is a film made for a family audience so you can understand why it shies away from the harsher realities of the illness, but it will undoubtedly make some people feel the movie is being pretty manipulative.
Dakota Fanning does well in a tough role, realising that the only way to keep things grounded is to underplay the emotion, only allowing it to rise up through the prickliness of a teenage girl. Jeremy Irvine also does a good job of underplaying the melodrama, but he’s slightly stuck with character who’s rarely allowed to do more than be impossibly handsome and the perfect boyfriend.
However the person who really keeps the movie just about on the right side of sickly is Paddy Considine, who gives a great performance as a man desperately trying to do the best thing for his daughter, but feels pulled in a hundred directions as to what that is.
Some will undoubtedly find the whole thing nauseating, incredibly calculated and unbearably over-romantic, while others will be totally sucked in and weeping uncontrollably at the end. And with director Ol Parker (who incidentally wrote the script for Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) pulling the emotional strings hard, there’ll also be plenty who’ll reach for the tissues even while they kick themselves for being manoeuvred into getting a lump in their throat. I have to say I was in that camp, as even though the movie descended ever further into the realms of fantasy as the minutes went on, it still moved me.
Overall Verdict: Now Is Good starts out as an interesting character study of a dying girl before heading full throttle in emotionally manipulative romantic tragedy. Although I’d have liked to see the prickly, rather angry films the first scenes suggest, it’s still emotionally effective.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac