Film Review: “Me Before You”

Rating: B-
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Jenna Coleman, Charles Dance, Janet McTeer
Release Date: 6/3
Rated: PG-13

Based on the 2012 bestselling novel of the same name, “Me Before You” rides the success of John Green-esque film adaptations to bring us a sappy romantic drama that knows exactly what it is. Emilia Clarke, best known for her performance as Daenerys Targaryen on “Game of Thrones,” abandons her dragons and blonde hair to play Lou, a quirky working-class British girl with a wardrobe that Zooey Deschanel would envy. Lou is hired to be a caretaker for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident and spends his days brooding in his wealthy family’s castle. Although Will initially finds Lou irritating, they eventually warm up to each other and — surprise! — fall in love. When she finds out that Will’s depression is pushing him toward suicide, Lou does everything she can to help him realize that he can still have a fulfilling life with her.

The story itself is straightforward: girl meets boy, falls in love, discovers devastating information that threatens the relationship and fights for her happily ever after. However, the chemistry between Clarke and Claflin saves the film from being a dry, forgettable romantic drama. While some of Lou’s facial expressions and eyebrow movements border on excessive, Clarke manages to pull off her animated personality without being overbearingly annoying. The contrast between Lou’s excitement and Will’s cynicism provides for both humorous banter and several emotionally heavy moments, and their relationship with each other is refreshingly genuine.

Photo courtesy of AceShowBiz.
Photo courtesy of AceShowBiz.

But despite the endearing characters, “Me Before You” falls prey to unoriginal cliches that make the film too predictable to be the tearjerker it advertises itself to be.The storyline is pretty much the same romantic drama that has graced the silver screen many times before, including a subplot about Lou’s boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis) that plays out how most subplots with a self-absorbed romantic rival usually do. Combined with cheesy crossfading montages and predictable character development, there are very few moments that actually prompt tears.

The film’s biggest downfall is skimming over the inherent problem it raises: Can disabled people still have rich, meaningful lives that “normal” people have, or is death the only option? Unsurprisingly, that question has attracted much controversy over whether or not “Me Before You” is implying that the disabled cannot live boldly, as the film’s tagline suggests. It is an issue that could have been prevented had the film actually confronted the topic instead of relying on the romantic aspect to tug on the audience’s emotions. Director Thea Sharrock, who makes her filmmaking directorial debut, tiptoes around the harsh realities of living with a disability so much so that the ending is deflating and melodramatic. It had the potential to be a raw, honest and compelling story, but it lacks the complexity and depth to live as boldly as it wants to. Even so, you can still be entertained and satisfied by “Me Before You” if you lower your expectations of an emotionally devastating experience.

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