Me Before You (2016)

Based on the New York Times Bestseller

‘You only get one life’ says a 31-year-old Will Traynor in Me Before You, ‘and it’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible’ — this advice directed toward his sparkling caretaker Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark, who claims to be content living in the quaint little English town in which they both grew up. But Will you see, knows of what he speaks, perhaps a bit better than most. With this in mind, who’da thought that a romantic tearjerker would end up being one of the most controversial films of the year — why, you ask? Well, in order to discuss Me Before You in some detail — the film based on the best-selling novel by Jojo Moyes (who also penned the screenplay) — one must venture into spoiler territory, so heed my warning.

Hello darkness, my old friend ...
Hello darkness, my old friend …

When the quirky Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) unexpectedly loses her waitressing job at The Buttered Bun Café, she is forced to find new employment in order to provide cash for her struggling tight-knit family. As it turns out, her desperation leads her to accept a gig as a caregiver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), an adventurous banker who once lived a full life until a tragic accident left him disabled and wheelchair bound with no desire to go on living — the sour Will keeping everyone at a distance with his overbearing cynicism. Unlike his parents, Camilla (Janet McTeer) and Stephen (Charles Dance), Lou refuses to give in to Will’s cold moods. In fact, her bubbly personality, colorful closet and upbeat nature are difficult for even the hard-bitten Will to ignore, the pair eventually realizing that their affinity and friendship is exactly what the other needs. However, while Will may have found his savior, Lou quickly discovers that Will may not want to be saved.

First thing’s first, why all the controversy? Directed by Thea Sharrock, who hails from a background in TV and theater, Me Before You succeeds at tugging at the heartstrings, filmmaker Sharrock injecting plenty of gentle humor into proceedings whilst treating the subject matter in a sensitive and sympathetic light. The problem however lies in the film’s basic premise, which rests on the idea that life with a disability is neither rich nor fruitful and simply not worth living. With Will resolve in committing assisted suicide, Moyes’ story could easily be interpreted in a way that paints people with a handicap in a negative light (as a burden for their families and careers), promoting the view that the disabled are better off dead. Consequentially, angry folk have protested by means of a #MeBeforeEuthanasia backlash while others have criticized the fact that Will is being played by an able-bodied actor rather than an actual paraplegic. That said, those who know their Nicholas Sparks fare (probably) know that the suicide plot-line solely serves as a means to get those tears flowing as opposed to providing any sort of commentary on the value of one’s life.

Lady in red ... there's nobody here, it's just you and me ...
Lady in red … there’s nobody here, it’s just you and me …

Anyhow, what is frustrating is Will’s final decision at the end of the film, considering the fact that 99.9% of real-life quadriplegics would probably kill to be in a position that’s similar to his. Furthermore, the privileged folk in the flick act as though they’ve never seen a guy in a wheelchair before. Other things fail to add up too, for instance Will’s slashed wrists, seeing as the guy can’t move from the neck down — so, how’d he cut himself?

Thankfully the winning performances at the center of the story sell this simple yet complicated romance, both leads bringing a considerable amount of depth to their stock-y characters. Emilia Clarke, who’s widely known for portraying Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones (2011), is infectious as the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed Lou, Clarke’s sincerity and kindness winning not only Will’s heart, but that of the entire audience, too. Sam Claflin of The Hunger Games (2012) fame is equally as charming as the self-pitying playboy-turned-cripple Will. Starting off as a sour sorta Disney prince who’s unable to accept his new circumstances, Claflin showcases innate charisma and warmness from the get-go, which helps Will’s transformation feel that tad more genuine, particularly as he breaks out of his miserable shell, his cold interior softened by Lou’s enthusiastic energy. Matthew Lewis — the dude who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter (2001) films — shows up as Patrick, Lou’s self-absorbed fitness-obsessed boyfriend, who makes it conveniently easy for our leading lady to fall for the broodingly handsome Will. The criminally underused Vanessa Kirby, Jupiter Ascending (2015), pops up in a decent secondary part as Alicia, Will’s one-time girlfriend, while Aussie Stephen Peacocke, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (2016), shines as Will’s carer or occupational therapist Nathan, a top bloke who tends to Will’s daily needs, serving as a friend and confidant for the bitter heartthrob. And oh, Doctor Who (2012) fans should keep an eye out for Jenna Coleman who portrays Lou’s sister Katrina (or Treena).

All the feels
All the feels

Sharing parallels with French film The Intouchables (2011), which centers around an unlikely friendship between a quadriplegic and his caregiver, Me Before You builds its melodrama up so calculatedly that it’s impossible to feel nothing by the time its closing credits roll — but hey, people don’t go to these kinda films to be challenged, they go to be resold on the fuzzy power of fairytales. Wonderfully acted and adeptly directed (and featuring not one, but two Ed Sheeran songs), Me Before You knows exactly what is it and embraces the hell out of it. Now excuse me while I go and wipe my eyes. It’s the pollen, I swear.

3 / 5 – Good

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Me Before You is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia