A film sometimes comes along that you are biased against when going in. You are expecting rubbish. You roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and walk in the cinema prepared for the mess you are convinced you’re about to witness. A lot of the time, these fears turn out to be true, due to the fact that your brain is actively looking for things to dislike about the film. You end up just nitpicking a film that otherwise isn’t as terrible as you really think it is. On the other end of the spectrum, however, there’s the film you think is going to be terrible, yet turns out to be really, really good. Fantastic, even. That was my experience of Now is Good. I was expecting a sentimental, manipulative, and exploitative mess of a film. What I got instead was a well-written, expertly directed, an superbly acted drama that is one of the most surprising films of 2012.
Based on the book Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Now Is Good is centered around Tessa (Dakota Fanning). Tessa has a list on her bedroom wall of things she wants to do before she dies. Things like ‘break the law’, ‘take drugs’, and at the top of the list, ‘have sex’. Tessa, however, has a time limit. She has leukemia, and refuses to have chemotherapy. Soon after, a boy named Adam (Jeremy Irvine) moves in next door, and starts to develop feelings for Tessa. As Tessa, Adam, and Tessa’s family try to come to terms with her disease and seemingly inevitable fate, Tessa sets out to fulfill her dreams and complete her list.
If you read that plot synopsis and are thinking ‘that’s some melodramatic teen dating tear jerker rubbish’, don’t worry, because that is exactly what I thought when going to see this. I thought I would hate it with passion. Hell, I was getting ready to hate it. Even so, as Now Is Good went along, I found myself absorbed and entranced by this film. Dramas, such as this are tough to pull off without the material coming across as too sentimental, which is a slight problem I had with the writer/director Ol Parker’s previous 2012 success, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. That film was good, but this is much, much better. The writing is where this film truly shines, not telling us how to feel about Tessa and her actions, but rather just showing them to us and letting us decide for ourselves. Parker seems to have consciously made the effort to do this (as interviews and Q&As have made evident), opting to show us the story, rather than the emotion behind the story.
The acting in Now Is Good is some of the best this year, with Dakota Fanning showing off some great abilities that certainly haven’t seen before. Jeremy Irvine vastly improves on his extremely bland performance in War Horse and shows every single subtlety and complexion in the character’s writing. Rosie Leslie does a good job as Tessa’s best friend Fiona, but the character does seem ever so slightly under-developed, and Leslie’s performance is the weakest of the film. It’s still good, just doesn’t leave that much of an impression. Her Mother (Olivia Williams) is also a very well-written character, with her trying so hard to act as though nothing is wrong and wanting everything to be just normal, yet is deep down insecure and doesn’t really know how to deal with problems or emergencies. But by far the star of Now Is Good is Paddy Considine as her father, stealing every scene he’s in, and delivering the most emotional and heart-breaking scene of the entire movie. He obviously wants his daughter to be happy, yet wants to be her Father at the same time, and when she has cancer, is a tough thing to do. The scene of him talking face to face with Adam for the first time somehow manages to be intimidating and hilarious at the same time.
Ol Parker’s assured direction (even though the close ups when people are talking can be distracting), combined with the great script and performances make Now Is Good a joy to watch and will leave an impression that is difficult to do at the best of times, let alone with the subject matter. Please watch no trailers and (if you can avoid it) don’t even look at the posters, as the frankly appalling marketing campaign give off completely the wrong impression and make this seem like a shallow, empty cash-grab, which it most certainly is not. Now Is Good is nothing short of brilliant and undoubtedly going to be the sleeper hit of 2012. It won’t be for everyone, but if you like dramas that aren’t manipulative and leave a genuine emotional impact, then see this film. Just remember, you will cry.