Me Before You
A catastrophically confused movie, Me Before You peddles a questionable message about living with disabilities and then tricks us into believing in redemption through a cornball love story before leading us to a tragic foregone conclusion. It works hard to gain empathy and make us cry, but the labor shows and it ultimately goes down like a house of cards. You may cry, but they’ll be cheap tears, for certain.
None of this is the fault of its wonderful actress, Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke, launching a charm offensive to sell this maudlin pap. It almost works. Well-directed by theater alum and first-time feature filmmaker Thea Sharrock, Clarke manages to create a decent, human person in the middle of the confusion that is Jojo Moyes screenplay, adapted from her wildly popular 2012 novel.
Handsome, wealthy young investment banking stud Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) appears to have the world on a string until being run down by a motorcycle in the London streets. Flash forward two years and he’s quadriplegic, living annexed off his parents’ castle (yes, castle), tended to by doting mom (Janet McTeer) and practical dad (Charles Dance).
Enter endearing Louisa “Lou” Clark (Clarke), a twenty-six-year-old bakery shop clerk who loses her job, to the dismay of her working class family. Lou is warm, vivacious, kind in the extreme and the movie defines her not as much by these qualities as by her day-glo, oddly mismatched and funky clothing choices. It’s the kind of film where we are asked to empathize with her but also to laugh at her “unique” visage.
Lou answers an ad to care for Will, and while his uptight mother questions her experience, she wonders if offbeat Lou might be just the thing to engage depressed Will. At first, the pair bicker until later, when the screenplay requires it, sparks fly.
The power of love to overcome, right? Wrong. It turns out that Will has made a death pact with a Swedish organization dedicated to helping hopeless folks gracefully exit—as in final exit—and there isn’t a damned thing Lou, Will’s parents or anyone else can do to change his mind. Guess who wins this clash of wills?
At the worst, the movie says that if you a wealthy one-percenter and you can’t bungee jump and bed model babes, you might as well kill yourself straightaway; that an alpha male power broker simply cannot adjust to being alive if, confined to a wheelchair, he cannot be the master of his domain.
Secondly, the movie asks us to invest in its burgeoning romance, and the transformational power of such—we can see the characters changing—then once we are on the hook, it pulls the rug out, and we watch a character we have come to care for go through the ultimate manipulation.
Me Before You thinks it’s provocative, truthful even, but it’s selling a strange idea of a fantasy romance where you give all of your love to someone, they return the same and then tell you they’d rather be dead. And in its bizarre, chick-flick universe, it still wants a happy ending.
While Clarke has immense heart, I had no sympathy for the arrogant Will, and found Claflin to be coolly self-absorbed—perhaps the point.