Ol Parker – he of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel notoriety – is fast becoming the director of choice for sanitising death for those who fear its onset most. As with his last film about a bunch of OAPs on a latter-years, lifetime’s trip to India, he takes the subject and makes it not only palatable for a wider audience, but also amusingly ironic. In this respect, his latest film, Now Is Good, based on a youth novel by Jenny Downham, is a celebration of a young human being’s will to live as Death calls, and is both upbeat and uplifting to watch, as it is tragic in consequence.
American star Dakota Fanning plays 17-year-old Brit Tessa who, like most adolescents, is full of life and lip. Diagnosed with a terminal cancer, she is determined to live every last second to the full, working her way through her ‘bucket list’ – losing her virginity, taking drugs etc – while her parents (well played by Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams) struggle to cope with their grief and her ‘rebellious’ nature to her plight. What Tessa doesn’t count for is falling for the handsome boy next door, Adam (War Horse’s Jeremy Irvine), before shuffling off her mortal coil. Falling in love is a whole new aspect that she’s not ready to finish experiencing yet.
Fanning gives a truly impressive and memorable performance in this, pronouncing a South-Coast accent perfectly as a free-spirited girl from Brighton. Parker claims she was chosen, simply because she pressed for the part, and it’s clearly not only a bold choice but also the right one. She also pulls of Brit mannerisms so well that it’s hard to think of Fanning as anything other than from these shores. She is feisty, petulant and often cutting, but also physically fragile as Tessa, a winning formula for a lead heroine.
There is also a wonderful ease with which Fanning portrays her headstrong character that soothes the pathway to the inevitable. She remembers to make Tessa’s pain seep through at just the right amount so that there is always a constant sub-conscience reminder, without resorting to tear-jerking theatrics. It’s only at the end that the emotion truly catches up with you, which is when Parker goes to town and gives a montage of ‘what could have been’ in a healthier world.
Fans will be in for a shock with Irvine who has transformed, physically, to play the ‘boy-band-looking’ hunk, Adam, in this who also mourns the recent passing of his father. As another ‘hurting soul’, Adam’s rebellious nature compliments Tessa’s in a battle of wills, each trying to find purpose in life throughout with amusing consequences. Irvine is commendable enough in the role, and has a wonderful confrontational scene (not in the book) with Tessa’s father, brilliantly acted by Considine.
Now Is Good may have the Brighton trendy factor to it in design and attitude, but it will remain to be seen how youth and death whet younger appetites at the box office. That said the main plot is a young, developing love story between two very determined characters, played by two very appealing actors, which will give Parker another dark horse in the running.