Adapting Jenny Downham’s book Before I Die director and screenwriter of Now is Good, Ol Parker, could have easily fallen into the tempting trap of extracting every ounce of schmaltz that the poster might suggest. Telling the story of Tessa (Dakota Fanning), a 17 year old girl who, having undergone treatment for leukaemia for four years, has decided to let the inevitable happen and live out her remaining time ticking off things on her ‘to-do’ list before she dies. The list is a typical teenage wish list which includes doing illegal drugs and having sex.
Paddy Considine play’s Tessa’s responsible father wanting to keep his eldest child alive, while Olivia Williams is the more naturally irresponsible parent and her daughter’s illness shows up the cracks in her character. When Tessa literally meets ‘the boy next door’, Adam, War Horse’s Jeremy Irvine, the stage is set for a predictable ‘dying girl meets love of her young life’ romantic drama.
Parker’s direction is straightforward and the script unlikely to win awards. However, along with a well chosen music soundtrack, what the film does have in its favour is a talented cast mining subtlety and giving nuanced performances.
The near preternatural precocious wisdom that radiates from Dakota Fanning is perfect for her role as Tessa. Fanning’s English accent flows nicely and her ‘doing an accent’ is forgotten after the first scene. With literally nothing to lose and staring death calmly in the face, Tessa wants to really ‘live’ before she dies though her illness has robbed her of a care-free youth, anyway. Paddy Considine plays the protective and desperate plight of a father to a dying child with restraint and also deals with a teenage daughter aware of her consequence-free last months. Williams as Tessa’s mother is the ‘adolescent’ of the piece, making excuses when a lack of maturity shows her inability to deal with the issues at hand.
Jeremy Irvine as Adam has to navigate being the ‘perfect’ first love with the screenplay giving him a recently deceased father, a motor bike, remaining at home with his mother, great gardening skills and falling in love with Tessa instantly. But the chemistry between Adam and Tessa is believable because Fanning underplays the inevitable gut wrenching loss that is stated from the very beginning. There is a pleasant innocence to Irvine’s face that works well and counters Tessa’s jaded experience.
When the emotional moments come in Now is Good though the story prepares you for it, Fanning and director Parker don’t cheat their way into the inevitable tears that most will shed during this film. The film looks at death and grief of a loved one calmly and without Hollywood pretentiousness never driving home it’s message but letting the audience relate to a family situation known in some form, to most.
3 out of 5 stars