Susan Wloszczyna‘s review of Me Before You describes the film as a romantic drama, “based on a best-seller by a female author that has been devoured by hordes of female readers, [in which] a filthy-rich 30-ish man who has shut down his emotions forms a relationship with a fetchingly unsophisticated, younger woman of modest means who is willing to tend to his needs.” With a summation like that, it’s not difficult to conclude what kind of caliber of film you’re in for.
Me Before You, as Wloszczyna too points out, is certainly not the Fifty Shades of Grey of 2016, however. It has an actual chemistry of sorts between its two leads, and instead of being full-on harmful in its portrayal of the subject matter (in a way that its female fanbase is disturbingly reluctant to admit), its worst crime is that it’s clunky. Unless you count all the relentlessly cutesy sugar-sweetness that the film’s central romance entails, in which case there’s always that.
To be more precise, the subject matter at hand is quadriplegia, as the film’s main star is a wheelchair-bound banker with a pretty face named Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), who begins his character arc as cold and withdrawn, but over time starts to give in to the charmful klutziness of the unemployed Louisa Clark. She is played by a wonderful Emilia Clarke, who ought to have other matters to attend to now that she’s left the Dothraki encampment and the White Walkers are getting close. But I suppose there’s always time for a schmultzy romance or two in-between all the exciting stuff.
The relationship between Lou and Will evolves into something beautiful, even though Lou technically has a boyfriend (Matthew Lewis), albeit an inattentive and uncaring one. However, Will’s paralysis also evolves to a point where he chooses to travel to Switzerland and be voluntarily euthanized, something that Lou vows (in secret) to make him change his mind about before it’s too late. I refuse to say how it ends, of course, but consider The Fault In Our Stars and ask yourselves how movies/books like this usually become hot-selling.
Among the movie’s co-stars we see the always effective presence of Charles Dance as Will’s father (though still not as good here as in Game of Thrones) and Janet McTreer as his mother. There’s also Jenna Coleman, who is scarcely an unpleasant sight, regardless of how you feel about Clara Oswald at this point.
Much of the critique geared towards the film stems from its implications that having a crippled person in the family is a chore and a burden for your loved ones. Another reason is its apparent advocacy of suicide. I for one only support the idea of voluntary euthanasia if it concerns a particularly dire and specific situation (California recently passed a law that allows terminally ill patients to legally kill themselves if “necessary”, not that you can go to jail for committing suicide). Will Traynor is not at a stage where ending it all should be the only way out, especially seeing as his main motivator for killing himself is that he just wants his family to be able to lead a happy life.
The message can be interpreted several ways. One is that death is better than being handicapped; another is that, if you’re handicapped, your demise would do your family a solid and spare them the trouble of caring for you. I’m sure this probably wasn’t the intended lesson and that the makers of Me Before You wanted to make something better than what was put before us, but considering the E.L. James‘s of the world, you never know how much people truly care about getting it wrong. Many real-life quadriplegics have expressed how ashamed they are to be associated with this movie and its source material, and I can’t tell you if the writer of Me Before You took the high road or if she started whining about her “haters” on Twitter.
I do see good things in Me Before You. It is vibrant to look at and its central romance, while definitely cheesy, has at least some semblance of appealing chemistry between the two main stars (fans of romance novels, particularly the most blindly die-hard ones, are going to love it either way, I suspect). But even so, “cheesy” is the key word here. I often question a director’s confidence in their own ability to create genuine drama if they feel the need to forcibly tug on your heartstrings a little extra by inserting Ed Sheeran songs here and there.
Again: boy is this movie at least going to sell well amongst the right people. Have a look the trailer, why don’t you.