ME BEFORE YOU, adapted for the screen by author Jojo Moyes, is frustrating. Mostly because I have issues with the storyline and character motivations, but the darn chemistry and charisma of the two leading actors make it slightly more difficult to give this movie a negative review. Even so, as much as the studio is building this up to be the next big romantic sob fest, I wasn’t as satisfied as I expected to be when leaving the theater. But hey, at least we have a new-found respect for Emilia Clarke’s fashion-sense, especially the amazing collection of tights.
Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is a rich playboy with a great job, hot girlfriend, and more money than he knows what to do with. On one rainy day, a distracted Will is on the phone, crossing a busy London street. A man on a motorcycle barrels into him, changing Will’s life forever. Now a quadriplegic, living back home in his (literal) castle with his parents, Will is struggling to come to terms with his new situation. So, his parents decide to bring in a bubbly young caretaker named Lou (Emilia Clarke) to raise his spirits and hopefully give him a new lease on life.
Off the bat, it’s obvious the film has an agenda – to be the next NOTEBOOK-esque tear-jerker. The audience at my screening even received free tissue boxes before the movie started to further pander to the notion that there were going to be a lot of tears shed by the end of the film. But shockingly enough, I didn’t see or hear anyone sobbing, and I left the movie feeling more annoyed than upset. I’m not saying I should be seen as an indicator to gauge an audience’s response to a movie, but as someone who admittedly gets way too emotionally invested in TV shows and movies, the fact that I wasn’t a sobbing mess by the end of the film says a lot.
The film is full of cliche after cliche, and our favorite (sarcasm) movie trope, the manic pixie dream girl. But that isn’t the main problem here. What the film lacks in originality, it makes up for in the chemistry between the lead actors. Whether it’s on the small screen or big screen, Emilia “Mother of Dragons” Clarke’s exuberant personality stands out, bringing a lightness to a dark subject matter… and she certainly wasn’t holding back on expressiveness. Mixing that with Sam Claflin’s natural charisma, and you have a winning pair. It was these two performances that elevated the film and made it watchable, even during the most infuriating parts.
Which brings me to my main issue with the film (SPOILERS BELOW). In no way can I begin to imagine the struggles of being a quadriplegic – the issues and pain they deal with every day. And I would not want this to be seen as me trying to project what I think they must be going through. However, the movie’s presentation of Will’s decision to end his life because of his injury seemed to be a disservice to those going through similar struggles in real life. There were a few scenes showing Will sick, and one scene TOLD us that he was in a lot of pain. But instead of delving more into these health issues that come along with the severe injury, it really seemed Will was ending his life due to the fact he couldn’t be a playboy anymore – skiing with his friends, going to Paris and having girls gawk at him, etc. Of course it is a personal decision for Will’s character to end his life based on his struggles with his condition after the accident, but his motivations made him seem less sympathetic and more selfish/unrelatable.
The entire time, I was thinking about all of the thousands of other quadriplegic men and women who probably would be grateful to have the access to health care and financial security that Will does. Yet we are supposed to be hysterically crying at the end of the film because he finally ends his life due to the fact he doesn’t feel like his old 1%’er self anymore? Certainly mental healing, and learning to deal with your new, unexpected life, goes hand in hand with physical healing during the healing process. But the things Will seemed to hold dear that he was now unable to do, which caused him to end his life, were not things that I found to be particularly sympathetic.
Obviously I have some serious issues with the heart of the movie, and found myself asking questions instead of sobbing. But, I think fans of the book will be pretty happy with the adaptation and will probably understand the motivations of the characters more than I did. Thanks to a great cast and some funny scenes, ME BEFORE YOU was entertaining enough. Just make sure you keep your expectations at a minimum and don’t expect to get your hanky out of your bag.
My Review: C+