Me Before You (2016)

Directed by Thea Sharrock
Written by Jojo Moyes

When I first experienced Nicholas Sparks, it was with The Notebook, a film which works on many levels and is buoyed by the charisma of its young leads, Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. Like all of Nicholas Sparks’ movies that have followed, The Notebook ends in a twist, but one which is not as bizarre or jarring as such films as Safe Haven. It may seem odd for me to bring up Nicholas Sparks in this review, but the connection is impossible to ignore to Me Before You, a film based on a novel by Jojo Moyes, who also pens the screenplay here, which ends in a similarly head scratching manner to many of the recent Nicholas Sparks movies. For the charisma of this film’s leads, I wanted to like this movie, but the circumstance and plotting simply wouldn’t allow it.

Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a plucky young girl in a small English countryside town who works at a cafe for a living to help support her family, with whom she still lives, as her father struggles to find work. When an opportunity arises for her to fill the role of “carer” for a quadriplegic, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a member of the local aristocratic family, she jumps at the opportunity, but finds Will’s gloom outlook on life hard to cope with. When she finds out from Will’s parents (Janet McTeer, Charles Dance) that he gave them six months before he decided whether to end his life or not, Lou uses her enthusiasm and boundless love to entertain and warm Will’s heart along with his primary doctor Nathan (Stephen Peacocke), all the while alienating her affectionate, yet selfish boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis), who becomes jealous of all the affection Lou is giving to Will.

The film is innocuous enough at the start, giving Emilia Clarke, of Game of Thrones fame, ample screen time to build her bubbly character into a lovable female lead. I was easily reminded of Sally Hawkins’ performance in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky. Unfortunately, all of Clarke’s pluckiness is not enough to save an otherwise awfully written film, which features tenuous relationships between people on the premise of money, and an ending to rival the horrible and morally mystifying Seven Pounds. I think the film works best when the viewer is simply spending time with Lou and Will, forgetting what brought them together or dreading where the film may take them. Their budding friendship and romance is sweet. I could totally buy Lou’s exceedingly joyful presence lifting Will’s otherwise bleak existence.

It is far too bad that the film leans on the emotional manipulation of Will’s disability and immoral plans, along with the extremely lazy dependence on a prominent, mainstream pop music soundtrack in order to communicate all the emotions the filmmakers would like us to feel, but which they otherwise are incapable of delivering on their own. There are a fair bit of laughs and moments which make you smile, mostly due to Clarke’s infectious performance. The film also, at the very least, supports the viewing of films with subtitles. So if Me Before You is able to deliver one ounce of wisdom upon its audience, it might be that they should not be afraid of subtitles (and that Of Gods and Men is a great French film).

I don’t want to get too much into what ultimately drags this film through the mud, as it pertains mostly to its ending, but there is plenty of evidence to condemn this well-intentioned film. The biggest blight surrounds the supposed relationship between Lou and Will, which is based off a monetary exchange for companionship and happiness, which is the result of Will’s mother finding Lou to be the most attractive of the candidates who applied for the position, conceivably in hopes that her son would fall in love with his caregiver and forgo his morbid plans in favor of her. In this manner, Lou is nothing more than a prostitute, hired to seduce Will and provide him happiness in the role of servant. If that wasn’t enough, Lou’s own dreams and wishes are mostly ignored until a time which better suits the dramatic effect of the plot and its “hero”.

Me Before You will likely pander to its target audience, and devout fans of the genre, but it does very little in the way of conjuring up a reason for new fans, or those who like to see smart, sweet, meaningful romance movies. Instead, Me About You takes a rather sadistic turn in the end, asking for its audience’s tears instead of attempting to earn them. It is all a rather convenient setting in which to try and tell the audience to live their lives to the fullest, but consider this a “do as I say, not as I do” example, causing the film to fall extremely flat in the end. Seek inspiration elsewhere if you please.

** – Poor

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