ME BEFORE YOU (Warner Bros.)
Dir. Thea Sharrock, Script. Jojo Moyes
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin
Plot: Aimless twenty-something Louisa (Clarke) stumbles into caring for recently-disabled Will (Claflin).
Me Before You is a film whose makers have falsely assumed they could make for you before The Fault In Our Stars, and not have you realize what the deal is. The two tear-jerking romance movies are pretty much identical, but that’s not a criticism; in fact, and it pains me to say it, I really liked The Fault In Our Stars when it first came out a couple of years ago and, as I turn this blog into a confession room in a Catholic church, I am a complete sucker when it comes to by-the-numbers romance movies. Call me a sappy sentimentalist, but I can’t help but feel a little giddy when the course of love actually does run smooth. In the case of this latest romantic flick, set to burn through the tissues and wallets of couples everywhere in the coming weeks, true love really does run smooth. And not just because of the fact half of its on wheels.
For a rom-com though, there’s sparingly little romance. In fact, for the first twenty minutes, all our protagonist Louisa Clark receives is bitter vitriol from wheelchair-bound Will, whom she has been hired to provide ‘care and companionship’ for. Me Before You‘s set-up is very Trading Places, as we see somebody from a working class background (the claustrophobic, warm space of Louisa’s family home is well-contrasted with the cold marble and glass panels of Will’s impromptu rehabilitation clinic) thrust into the veneer and velor of the rich. Will’s family are crazily, archetypically wealthy (they own a castle for crying out loud), and while all these things are the hallmarks of a movie setting itself up to make a comment on society’s wealth gap, it doesn’t really happen. The whole film feels as antiseptic as the monochrome annex that acts as Will’s effective prison – its all very safe, and it sets up themes that it never really addresses.
The big one is the fact that Sam Claflin plays a disabled man, used in the way that TFIOS used cancer for dramatic effect. Me Before You approaches Will’s disability sensitively, but seemingly depicts him as a burden – the main plot of the film revolves around Emilia Clarke being brought in essentially as a last resort by Will’s parents (Charles Dance the father – great to see Tywin and Daenerys finally meet) in order to keep him from killing himself. And when the subject of suicide, in this case of the assisted variety, does come to a head later in the film, it feels very muddled: Louisa’s mother makes a quite impassioned comment about what she thinks about it, but it feels hopelessly out of place, and in the end I felt that, while Me Before You could have really gone head-on and portrayed that subject matter for what it is, it shirked away from it and tried to dance around the edges.
What does make Me Before You worthwhile however are its two leads. Louisa, our chatty working class fire-starter, is the Queen of Dragons herself Emilia Clarke, and never has there been a more expressive face. Clarke runs at full pelt towards this role, with an enthusiasm so limitless you might actually want it to be limited at points, but its her vivaciousness that lifts Me Before You from being very by-the-numbers. Clarke could have perhaps shown a little restraint – there’s a few scenes in Me Before You that might’ve been much more impactful if she had. And at times, I did find that bottomless pit of happiness rather grating; she does feel very genuine though.
On that note, I’d say Sam Claflin (or as I like to call him, Hugh Grant II: The Wrath Of Khan) is the stronger player here, as the Hunger Games pretty boy gets to flex more serious acting chops as a once free-spirited businessman turned quadriplegic and forlorn after a motorcycle accident. From his chair, Claflin does a really good job at putting forward the many sides of Will Traynor’s emotional situation, sliding quickly from being bitter and sarcastic to joyous and hopeful. Without his subtle display acting as a wonderful juxtaposition to Clarke’s aggressively cheery approach, I can honestly say that Me Before You would have completely gone off the rails. It’s a quietly tremendous turn from Claflin that holds the whole film together – I’d even say he has a harder job of getting the audience to like him, as his character is not only filthy rich but severely disabled, two things most of the film’s audience won’t have experienced, so for him to make Will a very likeable guy was a pretty impressive feat.
But what happens when you put these two pretty people together? Both actors run off of each other very nicely, and there’s a playfulness to their relationship only helped by the witty dialogue of Jojo Moyes, adapting her book to screen. The script functions best in the more intimate moments between Clarke and Claflin, getting them pretty much nailed on, and is also pretty funny at times as well. However, once you think the film is about to reach its emotional crux, it seemingly goes on fast-forward to avoid it, and the film ends ridiculously and jarringly quickly. Along with the script, the direction by Hollywood newbie Thea Sharrock, more recognised for her theatre work than her filmed output, is genuine and earnest. Sharrock doesn’t do anything too flashy, keeping the visuals very understated. She has a decent handle on the tone, although that sometimes wavers as scenes meant to be funny come across as more tragic, and her cinematographer Remi Adefarasin has a really good eye for a shot; the whole film looks really sleek and polished.
But the same can be said of a narrative that should have been much rawer – Me Before You is supposed to be a tear-jerker, its supposed to turn on the tap behind your eyes and make the water gush out through them, and I don’t feel like it does that so well. The meat of the film, with disability and assisted suicide in there, could have been handled in a much more incisive way, but I feel like Me Before You actively avoids it: it uses the chemistry of its two memorable leads to sweep what should have been the film’s core under the carpet. However, while Me Before You might not function as a drama as well as The Fault In Our Stars does, its a pretty watchable and sleek romance, with two likeable leads, strong chemistry and witty dialogue to burn. If you’re lucky enough to have a girlfriend, then its your civic duty to watch this with her.
BEST WATCHED: Great for date night, and probably even better for a night in, but single folk shouldn’t be too bothered.
If this is your first time seeing Emilia Clarke then 1) I’m so sorry you missed out for this long and 2) binge-watch Game Of Thrones immediately, where she is of course playing Daenerys Targaryen for the foreseeable, fiery future. Clarke also has a couple of films in the works, including Above Suspicion, with Salt director Phillip Noyce on board. Claflin, after appearing in a single scene to “shit out some exposition on a horse” in The Huntsman: Winter’s War, will next be seen continuing his relationship with The Riot Club director Lone Scherfig in Their Finest Hour And A Half. Interestingly, both of the two upcoming films I’ve mentioned star Jack Huston, who will be replacing Charlton ‘YOU BLEW IT UP!’ Heston in the stupidly-conceived remake of multi-Oscar winning epic Ben-Hur (I would expect a classic TWIM rant on the horizon).