Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Brendan Coyle
Director: Thea Sharrock
Writer: Jojo Moyes
This is a film that has targeted itself towards a particular audience and, for all the girls and women out there looking for a melodramatic, tearjerker romance, Me Before You will hit all the right notes for them. It has a bubbly, socially awkward young woman as its protagonist. She meets a young, handsome lad with a tragic disability that has rendered him withdrawn and unfeeling. He has given up all hope of ever being happy again, but perhaps this kind, pretty and caring woman he’s grown rather fond of despite his initial resistance can bring him back from the edge. Although they are from two completely different worlds, they share a deep connection unlike any they’ve ever felt before. If these characters had been given American accents, I’d have sworn that I was watching a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel. Me Before You thankfully isn’t quite that trite but I did find it pretty schmaltzy at times.
Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) has recently lost her job at the local café and needs to find a new one to help her family meet ends. She learns of an opening as a caregiver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a son in a wealthy family who two years ago became completely paralyzed after a motorcycle accident. While Will already has a doctor called Nathan (Steve Peacocke) to attend to his medical needs, Lou’s job is to keep him company. His parents Camilla (Janet McTeer) and Steven (Charles Dance) are concerned with his cold, withdrawn demeanour and hope that the presence of a kind and pretty girl might help to restore his spirits. Will initially treats Lou with hostility but they gradually warm up to each other. Before long they start to develop feelings for each other despite the presence of Lou’s athletic boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis). When Lou learns that Will is intent on going to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, she makes it her mission to inspire within him the will to live.
While I wasn’t quite won over by the film’s romanticism and sentimentality, I can understand why someone would be. There is definitely some chemistry between the two leads and the romance they share is whimsical enough that I can see why someone could be swept away by it. The film takes the time to form a believable bond that is built from Lou’s affectionate care for Will and the eye-opening introduction he gives her to a world that she has never known in her sheltered existence. Together they watch foreign movies (the film they show is Of Gods and Men which is a magnificent picture), attend fancy concerts where they get to dress up and travel to exotic locations. Will prides himself on having always lived life to the fullest, something he is no longer able to do, and implores Lou to start doing the same. There are some tired clichés that have to be endured through it all though like the initial reluctance before the blossoming of the romance, the boyfriend who turns out to be a jerk (because of course he does) and the idealised carpe diem message. Those who have fallen under the film’s spell won’t care about such things but those who haven’t will be rolling their eyes at certain intervals.
The two leads certainly put their all into the film and deliver performances that made the cornier parts of the movie more bearable. Emilia Clarke is sufficiently delightful as the vivacious, clumsy, caring Lou who has spent her entire life putting other people’s needs ahead of her own. Opposite her is the dashing and charming Sam Claflin playing a broken man unable to bear a life trapped in a wheelchair. Both actors deliver the attraction and the tears when they are needed and share a spark that comes across rather well. The actors are however victims of the film they’re in and must bring the schmaltz where it’s needed as well. The film also contains a number of big names in British TV working with far too little to really put their talents to good use. The exception is Joanna Lumley who kills it in her fabulous 60-second cameo.
Me Before You is soppy, mushy and romantic and it’ll either work for you or it won’t. The leads are likable but conventional. The romance is charming but sentimental. The tragedy is clear but a little forced. The film avoids any attempt to provide a challenging and thoughtful discussion on euthanasia and instead uses it as a simple means of generating sympathy and sadness. In essence the film is a fairy tale, albeit not exactly a happy one, and its success depends on whether or not you fall for its spell. Although I myself wasn’t wholly moved by this film, there was certainly no shortage of girls and young women sniffling and wiping away tears in the cinema. Me Before You is the quintessential ‘movie that your girlfriend will love’ and has all the right ingredients for appealing to that demographic. As a simple movie it is pretty hackneyed and schmaltzy but isn’t without charm.