Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect when going into Me Before You, having read Jojo Moyes’s bestselling book the film is adapted from a year ago, that I didn’t feel quite as manipulated into tears than I feel with most of these types of “weepies.” However, unlike the bulk of these tragic romances (usually of the Nicholas Sparks variety), Me Before You is a charming and efficacious drama, coupled with solid performances from rising stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.
A far cry from the Mother of Dragons, Emilia Clarke slips into a completely different pair of (colorful) shoes as Louisa Clark, a young woman with a very sunny disposition and a wardrobe to match. She is hired by the Traynor family to be a caretaker for their son, Will, a dour thirty-something man who is paralyzed from the neck down. What starts as a tense and awkward relationship between the overly-delightful Louisa and the depressed and bitter Will transforms into something tender and sweet.
Clarke and Claflin sell this romance fully and add depth to characters that could have easily felt like caricatures. Clarke’s Louisa may venture a little into exaggerated territory with such expressive eyebrow movement and excitable reactions, but you can’t help but burst into a smile seeing someone so jazzed over a pair of tights. That kind of happiness is infectious and adds a strong uplifting element to what otherwise could be considered a somber story.
First time film director Thea Sharrock efficiently brings the story to life with bright, cheery visuals that juxtapose the subject matter in interesting ways. Moyes adapted her book for the film and stays fairly loyal to the source material. The film is very much centered on Lou and Will, so much so that the supporting characters have a presence but are not as well-utilized as the casting would suggest. Janet McTeer and Charles Dance don’t have much to work with as Will’s torn parents. (Although watching Emilia Clarke and Charles Dance play characters that are exact opposites of their Game of Thrones’s counterparts is highly amusing.) Lou’s boyfriend, played by Matthew Lewis (of Harry Potter fame), is not much more than the obnoxious, self-absorbed fitness obsessive. One of the strongest elements of the novel which served to explain a lot about Lou is her loving but struggling middle class family. Shifting the focus of Me Before You being a story about Lou to a story about Lou and Will is understandable, but I also can’t help but feel that Louisa’s character and overall story arc would’ve benefited from more family time.
A film about a relationship that blossoms between a quadriplegic man and his quirky caretaker is sure to make audiences shed a tear… or a million. There’s nothing wrong going through some cathartic emotions, especially when the storytelling earns it. After much thought, in this film’s case, it’s earned – to an extent. I’m in no position to have a real stance in the film’s debatably controversial ending. While tragic, I appreciate the attempt to balance both sides of Will’s situation. From Louisa’s eyes, we feel one thing, and from Will’s, we understand another. The actors deserve big props for portraying such earnest emotions. It’s a bit of a rarity when a film like this one isn’t so black and white, but dives into the murkier gray territories and takes a risk.
That’s goes right in line with what the film is ultimately about: living boldly. The message is rather heavyhanded in the epilogue, and the story is wrapped up a bit too neatly especially after the searingly emotional moment it follows.
It is easy to forgive the very cliche ending scene because Me Before You manages to remain an affecting drama with poignant performances. Without mincing words, it’s one of the better ones and worth seeking out.
Me Before You opens in theaters on Friday, June 3.