Now is Good is based on Jenny Downham’s bestselling young adult novel, Before I Die, which I read a few years back and, yes, wept buckets over. It’s interesting to discover, though, that Ol Parker, who wrote and directed the film, wasn’t totally convinced by the project when the producers first told him about it.
“When they pitched me a film about a teenage girl, with the title Before I Die, I almost passed before the end of the meeting,” he says.
“But they persuaded me to read the book and I found myself at two o’clock in the morning, blinded by tears, texting them and demanding that I be allowed to write and direct the film. The book is passionate, beautiful and brilliant, and paradoxically, fantastically life-affirming.”
I completely agree. The film is the story of Tessa, a feisty 17-year-old who’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness. But instead of shutting herself away and feeling sorry for herself, she resolves to live her life to the full and do all the things she reckons a teenager should do - like shoplifting, taking drugs and having sex.
There was always the risk that the movie, shot on location in Brighton and London, could have been mawkish and over-sentimental. But in fact it’s every bit as life-affirming and inspiring as the book. It helps, of course, that the script is funny, touching and not in the least bit maudlin, and, of course, that the cast is a stellar one.
Hollywood actress Dakota Fanning, who plays Tessa, is by turns sharp, annoying, passionate and wise. But best of all, she comes across as a teenager you might actually meet in real life. And yes, her English accent is utterly believable.
Similarly, Jeremy Irvine, as Adam, the next-door neighbour Tessa falls in love with, is convincing and real. The young English actor is also jaw-droppingly handsome (you’ll recognise him as Albert Narracott from Steven Spielberg’s War Horse), so it takes a few minutes to concentrate on his acting rather than his exquisite profile.
Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams (in a blonde wig) give cracking performances as Tessa’s parents. No longer living together, they react to their daughter’s leukaemia in very different ways. While Tessa's dad has given up work to look after her and spends hours trawling the internet for a cure, her mum is positively flaky, turning up late for hospital appointments and panicking as her daughter’s condition worsens. Look out for young actress Kaya Scodelario (of Skins fame) too. She is clearly a star in the making as Tessa’s best friend and partner in crime Zoey.
So, yes, go and see Now is Good. But trust me, you'll cry…
Now is Good is in UK cinemas from September 19. Certificate: 12A
Now is Good by Jenny Downham (David Fickling Books, £6.99). Originally published as Before I Die.