Main cast: Emilia Clarke (Louisa Clark), Sam Claflin as (William Traynor), Matthew Lewis (Patrick), Steve Peacocke (Nathan), Janet McTeer (Camilla Traynor) and Charles Dance (Steven Traynor)
Director: Thea Sharrock
Oh my, the people who do the make-up and tell the cast what to wear have done an incredible job in Me Before You. Sam Claflin, Mr Third Rate Robert Pattinson, actually looks hot here, while English soap actor Steven Peacocke looks far younger and less like the over-weathered prune he normally resembles in candid photos. Seriously, when both the beautiful Emilia Clarke and Mr Claflin smile in this movie… well, when each one smiles, the screen lights up (maybe literally, now that I think of it), and when the two of them smile at once, I find myself feeling unexpectedly smiley and happy too.
Louisa Clark is an English young lady who is as sweet as can be. She accepts that she is not the brightest bulb in the shed, and despite the fact that the entire family is always in need of money (her father has been laid off and is unable to get a new job for a long time now, and the rest of the family get by with jobs that don’t pay much), she is as pleasant and cheerful as can be. Well, until the restaurant in which she works at has to let her go due to poor times, and she is unable to hold on to her next few jobs for long. And then comes an opportunity to make more money than she normally would – the wealthy Traynor family, who own an actual castle in the neighborhood, is looking for someone to care for William, the son who had received an untreatable spine injury in an accident a few years back.
William is only able to move his body from neck up, and he also has some minor control over his fingers. An occupational therapist, Nathan, drops by daily to help him with exercising the muscles and tending to William’s more intimate care, while Lou is expected to drive Will around, help Will take his medications, prepare and feed Will, and do other stuff that Nathan doesn’t cover. Nathan doesn’t work full time, though, so Lou finds herself spending more and more hours with Will as the man slowly opens up to her. What you think will happen does.
Will does not want to live the way he currently does, however, and he has made arrangements with Dignitas, that Swiss group that helps people with medical illnesses or conditions who wish to die with dignity, to… you know. Initially, he agreed to delay his plans by six months at his parents’ insistence, and his mother Camilla had been hiring pretty young women one after another in desperate hope that one of them will give Will a reason to live again. Her pimping, er, loving efforts may finally see fruition with the hiring of what seems like the only woman whose cheerful and perky nature can crack Will’s defenses… or will they?
Yes, euthanasia is the issue at the core of Me Before You, but I don’t have an issue with this topic as I personally believe that people should be given the option to live or die by their own terms. So long as they are making the decision to end their lives when they are fully rational – like Will here – I have no moral or philosophical objections (and I personally hope I have that choice myself should I end up in the same circumstances). And it’s easy to understand that heartbreaking place Will is coming from: he used to be very active, doing everything and going everywhere, and he was this handsome, young demigod who had the world in his hands. And now, he can’t even take a dump without needing someone to wipe his arse. He is, basically, trapped in his own body that cannot move or do anything without requiring assistance from someone, and he spends each day wishing that it will end soon.
Perhaps the book by Jojo Moyes (who also wrote the screenplay) will have more nuances and room for development, but this movie doesn’t fully work at the end of the day because it approaches the relationship between Lou and Will like a typical romantic movie when it requires the movie to do more… so much more. For a long time, scenes in this movie are basically montages of Lou doing fun things for the first time while Will looks on with an approving smile on his face, and while these scenes are admittedly charming to watch, it is the final quarter or so of the movie that finally addresses Will’s decision to end his life and how this decision affects Lou. The movie waits too long to tackle this and the resolution feels really rushed; hence, the true ‘meat’ of the story is reduced to a few scenes while for too much of the movie in its early parts meanders around.
The screen chemistry between the two leads makes the movie, though. These two people are beautiful to look at – of course – but there is also a very believable kind of rapport and easy camaraderie that takes place between them in the movie. It is very easy to believe that they do like one another, and, as I’ve mentioned, when they smile, I find myself smiling along. And when these two are in some scenes meant to be heartbreaking, my heart breaks along with theirs. But the direction of the movie is a bit of a disappointment, as it can be very hamfisted in that it often telegraphs with loud and intrusive use of music on what I am often supposed to feel in a scene instead of just letting my emotions come naturally. Also, this movie reduces Lou’s character into a one-dimensional perky heroine, while the book introduces some darker elements into her personality (Lou was sexually assaulted in the past), so the movie often feels more superficial than the book.
And this is especially apparent in the whole set up. Jojo Moyes isn’t a romance novelist – she’s British, after all – and the book of the same name is actually the first in a series revolving around Lou constantly screwing up and moping in the grand tradition of chick-lit novels, so there is always an underlying cynicism in the whole thing. And here, all of the “Live your live, be free!” things Will lectures Lou on are not possible unless one is born into lots and lots of money like he is. I mean, in this movie, you can only live if you go to Paris and buy perfumes there. Will has no clue as to how normal people live, so the fact that he’s lecturing Lou on her being lacking and wanting because she can’t do this and that in various parts of the world… well, ain’t that peachy. Well, duh, if we all have his money, of course we will also be able to do everything fun and wonderful everywhere – I don’t think I need a tearjerker to tell me this.
The romance itself also can be lacking, in that it comes off as basically two people talking and giving orders over one another. Lou has the right idea in wanting to give Will the happiest six months of his life, but what plays out on screen is her taking advantage of Will’s money to experience new things for herself. Often she seems to be dragging Will along so that he can sit there and watch while she goes “Woo hoo!” Will repays the favor by constantly telling her how to live her life, right down to where to go, what to do there, and how to spend her money to get there. This is one “romance” that literally requires a bad spine damage to work, and it’s even more disheartening to know that Lou, in the end, “lives life” by acting like a loaded socialite instead of, say, going back to school and learning some skills that will allow her to be a fully independent and self-sustaining lady. Although, if she does that, the author won’t have a chance to turn the book into a series.
Anyway, Me Before You is a sweet movie mostly due to the leads, and often despite the hammy script. The soundtrack is pretty fabulous too, with the exception of Ed Sheeran, who gets way too many songs played here. Just try to discard your cynicism before you watch it, or else you will end up like me, thinking that this movie would be better off re-titled as Money Before Everything.