The story of a young girl with terminal leukemia, no longer on treatment and just trying to check off everything on her list of things she wants to do, was always going to shed a few tears. Now Is Good (directed by Ol Parker) lives up to that promise – the row I was sat in briefly became a sea of tissues at one point – but it’s also a lot more than that.
Dakota Fanning plays Tessa, who’s just stopped chemo. When we first meet her, we find her with her best friend Zoe (Kaya Scodelario) planning to check #1 off Tessa’s bucket list – sex. Completing every task on her list isn’t as straightforward as Tessa thinks it will be, though, and the list is ever-changing. Fortunately, she has Zoe and boy-next-door Adam (Jeremy Irvine) to help her out. Meanwhile, Tessa’s family are struggling to cope with her imminent death.
The film is an unflinching look at terminal cancer – which is more than can be said for the audience at times, because it gets quite gory in places – and also explores what exactly a young person should do in order to be truly ‘living’. There are some moments of humour and beauty, as well as the sadder aspects of the narrative. Overall, though, some of the most important scenes, particularly between Tessa and Adam, fall a little flat.
Tessa’s family, however, are perfect. Paddy Considine’s father-in-denial is a very credible complement to her flighty mother, played by Olivia Williams. It was Edgar Canham’s performance as Tessa’s little brother Cal, however, that finally had me sobbing – demonstrating a complex set of emotions portrayed incredibly well, especially by someone so young.
While medical situations and, particularly, blood are thoroughly exposed to the viewer in all their horror, a lot of the emotion of the piece is very understated. The list itself – Tessa’s list – is quite hard for me to relate to (and I assure you, it’s not a generation gap) as it seems to consist mostly of risky or illegal experiences, like taking drugs and shop lifting, but it does also feature some more understandable wishes, like love and fame. There’s a particularly sweet element to it in that Tessa doesn’t want to be forgotten – a wish Adam, though struggling with his own feelings, does his best to grant.
The way the film’s shot, though, allows the audience to be carried along on Tessa’s journey, and – like the book it’s based on, Jenny Downham’s Before I Die – see the whole experience from her point of view. There are some stunning shots of Brighton, where Tessa lives, and the surrounding area, which as a former resident I found more exciting than I should have. Also well-shot is a particular sequence that might remind Doctor Who fans of the Ninth Doctor’s tenure, and which is definitely one of the high points, emotionally speaking, of the whole film.
It’s a good premise – a dying girl trying to live a little before she dies – and there’s some good writing in it, but ultimately, for all the tears, Now Is Good falls a little flat. Don’t get me wrong, if you need an excuse for a good cry, this is the film for you and will serve the purpose admirably. The film should really, by all logic, be one that sticks in your brain and makes you think, but for some reason it just didn’t leave that much of an impact. Indeed, I met up with a bunch of other people who’d just watched it, right after the screening, and within two minutes we’d more or less forgotten it and were eating burgers and talking about cooking.
It’s a challenging film to watch, but it doesn’t really challenge the audience to think about anything or do anything. The story progresses more or less as you’d expect it to, from the general premise, and while there are plenty of poignant moments there’s nothing in there that’s going to change your life. That said, it is a good weepy and it would be fantastic in the capacity of grossing out younger siblings. Which is why I absolutely recommend that my brother see this film as soon as possible.
I’d give this film 3 out of 5.
Eleanor Musgrove (bets you Whovians are going to be curious for ages now)
This review is of a film seen at Festival du Film Britannique du Dinard, 2012. The film was not in the competition.