Me Before You (2016) / Romance-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Stephen Peacocke, Charles Dance, Matthew Lewis, Jenna Coleman, Samantha Spiro, Brendan Coyle, Vanessa Kirby
Small role: Joanna Lumley
Director: Thea Sharrock
Screenplay: Jojo Moyes (based on her novel)
Review published June 19, 2016
Sweet but predictable, Me Before You will likely please those among the target demographic that predominantly consists of women looking to smile and cry, not minding that most of the emotional beats are manipulated and manufactured to tug at your heart-strings in just the right way at just the right moments. Jojo Moyes adapts her own best-selling novel of 2012, and many will be reminded of the works of such rom-dram (romantic drama) regulars like Nicholas Sparks and John Green (for the younger set), or any of the rest of the authors seeking to ascend to the romance genre throne that requires you to hold the book in one hand and a hanky in the other.
The story revolves around two people, Will Traynor (Claflin, The Huntsman: Winter's War), a rich-but-dejected London man who is living a life of pain and solitude as a quadriplegic, and Louisa (Clarke, Terminator Genisys), aka "Lou", a chatty and free-spirited woman hired take care of Will's basic needs as well as to lift her spirits with her effervescent company. The problem is that the pain Will is in is not just physical; he misses his old life as an athletic, globe-hopping man of adventure, only to lose it all when being struck by a speeding motorcycle, so being stuck in a chair as an observer to life is particularly torturous. In short, Will wants to die, and Lou soon realizes that her employment rests on changing his mind. However, to do that, she will first have to melt that thick, icy exterior of his, which proves nearly impossible given his distraught mind-state.
Interestingly, though the film gives lip-service to the challenges faced by Will and his quadriplegia, we get a very glossed-over and freshened-up version of the condition, whereby Lou is mostly free from seeing Will in his lowest moments. The film makes it a point to suggest that Lou doesn't have to help him in his bathroom functions, though it doesn't always explain who actually does and when, especially when Louisa and Will are alone on one of her field trip attempts to show Will that he can be happy and enjoy life by leaving the large-but-mostly empty estate that he's confined himself in. I guess he just holds it in? The most difficult thing Lou has to do is prop his pillow in a different position when Will makes a discomforted facial expression.
The story also glosses over the euthanasia debate by hardly dealing with the moral and ethical implications at all. Will looks into the ending his life at a facility that caters to assisted suicides, and the film mostly treats the event as a thing that those depressed that they're confined in a wheelchair can consider as a humane alternative. Some viewers may find this notion troubling, given that it essentially treats those with difficult disabilities as a burden that might as well not exist so that those who have to care for them are free to live their lives to the full. This may also be viewed as especially insensitive given that it's mostly being used as a plot device -- a countdown to a climax instead of a serious subject that merits more thoughtful consideration than this superficial sudsy romance cares to explore. The same can also be said about issues of fidelity that are wrestled with without the emotional depth that would normally be warranted from a movie with more serious things on its mind than following a formula to make audiences respond to beats of whimsy and melancholy.
Thea Sharrock, directing her first feature film after many years working in live theater, could have made the film mostly a two-hander in a confined space, but manages to break out of the more intimate environs of the castle estate to showcase such things as Lou's family, her dealings with her fit and jock-minded boyfriend, and a few day trips for will to experience the cinema, the horseraces, and classical music performances. He's a doer, not a watcher, which may actually increase his frustration, but the two eventually form a bond from their shared experiences that does offer up to Will the possibility of love and happiness, even if he can't physically perform the way he would like, or a potential future partner might deserve.
Emilia Clarke gets to show range outside of her turns as strong-willed characters on "Game of Thrones" and in Terminator Genisys, giving her romantic and comedic chops. She facially over-expresses on occasion and, as a character, is painted as too cute and idealized to be believed (for instance, she wears an endless array of colorful clothes, which, for a woman whose family has been struggling financially for years, seems selfish to maintain), but eventually emerges as likeable, contrasting to the way that the hunky Sam Claflin is underplaying his role as Will, who is cold and often checked out from life, and a bit cranky about having to confront it when provoked to do so.
Me Before You isn't an unenjoyable movie, but also it isn't a very good one. Audiences coming to feel an emotional moment or two will likely find the tried-and-true formula works as a tearjerker, even though, as a story, it's neither original nor truly compelling. However, much of the entertainment value of the film comes from how attracted you may be to quirk and fancy, as the makers of the movie want every room, home, and environ to look clean, immaculate and adorable, sanding down every trace of rough edge to make for the smoothest, most candy-coated pill to go down easy, welling those tear ducts without educing the burden of having to think more deeply about the myriad of heavy emotions the characters would have had to go through if this weren't such a determinedly commercial fantasy product.
©2016 Vince Leodiv>