Me Before You
Me Before You (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Me Before You,” based on the novel and adapted to the screen by Jojo Moyes, is not a typical romantic comedy-drama because it offers no ordinary trajectory to an expected happy ending. In addition, and more importantly, it dares to bring to light a challenging subject involving one’s right—or should be one’s right—to choose to end one’s life. In this story, a man in his late-twenties or early-thirties named Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), paralyzed from the chest down to due a motorbike accident, has given his parents (Janet McTeer, Charles Dance) six months before he exercises his right to die.
But just because the subject is quite gloomy does not mean that the picture does not command appeal. For one, it is interesting, sometimes silly, how the filmmakers are able to weave fashion statement dresses, exotic locales, and posh indoors into the story. These are classic elements that make up a so-called “date movie,” but what is superior here is the way these factors come about naturally—or as natural as possible. There is often context as opposed to, for example, a woman deciding out of the blue to try on different clothes, like too many astonishingly bad Hollywood fares, while the pop soundtrack drones on into pointlessness or boredom.
Furthermore, Claflin and Emilia Clarke, the latter playing a recently hired caretaker for Will, share strong, vibrant chemistry. The performers look good together—which helps. But of further importance is that there is intelligence, insight, and drive behind their eyes. These are not just good-looking actors galloping about reciting lines. Perhaps one of the most effective creative decisions is this: Notice how the decreasing distance between Will and Louisa are played out almost like a tease—they do not kiss, or hug, or touch one another passionately until late into the picture. When they finally do, it is a cathartic moment.
Less strong is the manner in which supporting characters are written. For instance, Louisa’s boyfriend (Matthew Lewis) is a stereotypical fitness junkie who doesn’t care much about what his girlfriend might need or want at the moment or out of the relationship in general. While it is all right to have this kind of character, especially within the realm of this genre, the screenplay must give the viewers a reason, which doesn’t have to be excellent but one that should be believable, why the couple are in a partnership, albeit one that is not working, in the first place. Patrick is not given much appeal and so not much tension is gathered and delivered when he and Will finally meet at Lou’s house. A similar critique can be applied to Lou’s parents, Will’s parents, and even Lou’s sister (Samantha Spiro) who means well.
Directed by Thea Sharrock, “Me Before You” is likely to inspire conversations between the more thoughtful and insightful viewers. Less thoughtful and even less insightful audiences are likely to reduce it into a “euthanasia film” and make ill-placed proclamations about lives being meant to be lived all the way through no matter what the cost or that “killing yourself is never the answer.” In its essence, the film is about love—not necessary romantic love—and how that idea, or feeling, or action is applied to a specific circumstance. This is more of a love story than a thousand other movies where couples end up together, even though they are not at all a good fit, where they are forced to say “I love you” a million and one ways and live happily ever after despite the fact that it is painfully transparent that none of it rings true.