Now Is Good (review)

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Now Is Good red light Dakota Fanning Jeremy Irvine

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s so awesome to be a teenage girl! It’s all getting into trouble at the mall with your BFF and riding a motorcycle on a beach with the way-cute boy next door and making snow angels and climbing trees and skipping stones. Life is a nonstop adventure! Now Is Good, then, is so unlike most other movies, wherein girls are just the bit of fluff on a guy’s arm, or maybe the impetus for his adventures. Hoorah!

Oh… but… wait — what? Why does 16-year-old Tessa get to enjoy all these escapades? Why is she living onscreen the way that so few female protagonists get to live?

Because she’s dying.


Yup, Tessa (Dakota Fanning: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Runaways) lucked out and got the nice cancer — allegedly, here, leukemia — that somehow makes you look dewy and pretty right till the very end. You even get a cute pixie hairdo! Honestly, apart from one major nosebleed, you’d never know Tessa was ill, that she’s stopped her chemo and radiation in order to enjoy her last few months of life without their side effects while the cancer finishes it now-unstoppable rampage through her body. Being on death’s doorstep is what allows Tessa to tell off a doctor who is treating her “like a horse” and generally talk sass to adults who are being condescending, and also what permits her to express a desire to have sex. The way such deeds of Tessa’s are presented by screenwriter and director Ol Parker (adapter of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, director of Imagine Me and You), as moments of great import and significance, suggests that these are not normal things that an otherwise “good,” “nice” girl would do — they are what happens when all the shackles come off and a wild cancer woman is unleashed.

So I suppose the message is: Girls, if you want to live like and be treated like a human being with her own mind and agency over her own body, a person who deserves respect, be sure to develop a fatal illness. People might — just might — heed you. Because it’s the sickness speaking anyway, such a shame!

Astonishingly, this is not based on a Nicholas Sparks book. It is based on the novel Before I Die by Jenny Downham [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.], the acclaim for which suggests it has a lot more say about life than this schmaltzy cancer porn that was spun out of it, and the Wikipedia synopsis of which indicates a fairly significant plot change in the film that ends up undermining even the bullshit “only dying girls are truly free” theme that courses through the movie. It’s that theme that makes this porn, because Tessa’s freedom is a fantasy here, something naughty and cool that the ideal viewer — a teen girl, clearly — can only dream about. Look, Tessa’s new boyfriend is that gorgeous Jeremy Irvine from War Horse! And he just adores her and does crazy-mad-in-love romantic things for her. Squee! Why can’t I get cancer?

Tessa and Adam (the boyfriend)? They do actually make snow angels together, in one of many scenes that captures not a single lick of romance or pathos, and evoke only a general queasiness at how Hollywood-easy matters of life and death can be. (This is an especial achievement, since the film isn’t a Hollywood production but a homegrown British indie one. I’m not a particular fan of Fanning’s attempt at an English accent, though some of my English friends have said it’s fine.) Only Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum, Hot Fuzz), as Tessa’s grief-stricken father, has any moments of honest, hard-won wretchedness.

The Movies have a cancer, and it is schmaltz. And it keeps recurring. There is no cure in sight. We must only endure it during its regular flareups, as with Now Is Good. Live free, and go do something else with your time on Earth.

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