"A half-baked material made alive by charming actors who have overflowing chemistry.”
He had everything; she had no job. He travelled places; she had gone nowhere. And when a tragic misfortune pulled them close, an irresistible force nature will change their lives together. So goes the plot of Thea Sharrock's Me Before You, an adaptation of the 2015 bestselling novel of the same title by Jojo Moyes who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. Tackling class divides, medical tragedy, and whirlwind romance, the film has the ingredients for an extremely tear-jerking make-me-love-again romcom. Yet, the material fall shorts in dealing with its subjects and the final product ends up half-cooked and slightly desirable, if not for its wondrous production design, eye-catching costumes, and highly-affecting casts.
The film opens in whiteness as thirtyish Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) wakes up in his lavish London pad with his girlfriend (Vanessa Kirby) by his side. Born from a rich family who owns a castle that towers in the entire city, Will is both a financial whiz and extreme sports addict. But it is not skiing, windsurfing or cliff-diving that ends his wonderful life. While opting to walk to his office one rainy morning, he is hit by a bike that left him paralyzed.
Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a 26-year-old small-town British lass who works as a waitress in order to help support her extended family. Yes, she still lives in the crowded home of her parents (Brendan Coyle and Samantha Spiro). She also has a boyfriend (Matthew Lewis) who is just too occupied with his running and entrepreneurship. When the bar closes, Lou has to go back to her agency and accept an unlikely job.
Two years have passed since the accident and Will has become an icy and bitter quadriplegic. While a physical therapist (Stephen Peacocke) tend to his hygiene, Lou becomes his paid companion, serving him tea or simply there to cheer him up as explained by Will’s suffering mother (Janet McTeer) and kindly father (Charles Dance). But when Lou finds out about his wish for an assisted suicide in Switzerland in six months, she must do her best to make him love life again and withdraw his decision.
Me Before You is a very sweet romantic comedy, one that will put a smile in your lips all throughout despite some moments of tears and heartbreak. Yet, like most movies in the genre, it is very formulaic and the screenplay is not able to add extra jolt to its already mundane material. All the elements are present but the film just fails to take us to its climactic emotional highs and lows. It tells the story but it never actually takes us there. We are informed of Will’s suffering but it did not make us feel his pain. We are told of Lou’s impoverished life but we cannot see her struggles. In effect, the characters seem purely make-believe and not relatable human beings. The movie is too focused on the aspect of romance and sweetness that it did not successfully sell the individual characters.
The film also played safe by not being too emotional or by cutting scenes that would have provided stronger anchor to backstories and their present tales. There are several missed opportunities, like that moment after the wedding when Lou rides on Will’s lap and frolics on the garden. There could have been better romantic build-up there, instead of just relying on stirring musical score and photography.
The movie is reminiscent of 2014’s The Fault in Our Stars which is also based on a popular novel. The difference is that the earlier film was bolder and feels more genuine. It was not afraid to be overly dramatic; in the end, it was able to strongly tapped heartstrings and leave lasting marks. The present film is quite afraid to address the issue of euthanasia – an element that have driven plenty of the movie’s action. It is too quick to give a decision, a pivotal thing that actually left a sour taste in the end. For someone who has found a new love, it is quite frustrating that such love is not enough to break the bonds of aching and hardship that makes life not worth living.
Yet, the actors make the movie watchable from beginning to end. Lou is a refreshing character for Clarke. After playing the overserious and frigid silver-haired queen in Game of Thrones, Clarke changes palette and gives us a highly-lovable, charming, and sincere lady with so much personality and effervescence. She is very infectious with her big bold smile and bright expressive eyes. She is adorable with her gawky sense of fashion – from fuzzy sweaters to striped tights to polka-dot shoes. Clarke is simply dashing, much like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. Claflin provides balance as the upright and bitter Will. Because of the medical condition of his character, Claflin has limited places to work on but he is still able to bring the right amount of depth to Will. Supporting cast, though underused for most, lends enough chemistry and rapport.
Me Before You feels like it wasted its beautiful resources. It has superbly affecting actors, mesmerizing photography, delightful costumes, and breathtaking production design, but the screenplay is too bland and safe to be moving and memorable.
Distributors: Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwn-Mayer
Production: New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures present a Sunswept Entertainment production
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Brendan Coyle, Stephen Peacocke, Matthew Lewis, Jenna Coleman, Samantha Spiro, Vanessa Kirby, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Joanna Lumley
Director: Thea Sharrock
Screenwriter: Jojo Moyes
Producers: Karen Rosenfelt, Alison Owen
Executive producer: Sue Baden-Powell
Director of photography: Remi Adefarasin
Production designer: Andrew McAlpine
Editor: John Wilson
Costume designer: Jill Taylor
Composer: Craig Armstrong