‘Me Before You’ Review
By Stephanie Brandhuber
“Me Before You” is the only thing I was thinking as I desperately tried to exit the screening room as quickly as possible after having watched this saccharine and altogether unmemorable film by Thea Sharrock.
Based on the critically acclaimed, bestselling book by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You tells the story of Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke) who lives in a small, quaint town in England where she works in a tea shop. When she is forced to leave her job, however, she is suddenly under pressure to find new work in order to help support her tight-knit, but financially dependent family. After several meetings with her job-seekers’ councillor, she manages to get an interview for a caretaker position with the town’s wealthiest family, the Traynors. Her new position would entail providing companionship and care to Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a wealthy young banker who has become wheelchair-bound after being in a motorcycle collision two years prior.
The once sporty and adventurous Will can no longer see the point in staying alive because of his now quadriplegic state, and is on the brink of giving up hope of ever being happy again. That is, until the quirky and always-smiling Lou is hired by Will’s imperious mother (Janet McTeer) and loving father (Charles Dance) to cheer him up. However, Lou quickly figures out the real, underlying implications of her job: so distraught is Will over the loss of his old lifestyle, and apparently plagued by chronic pain, that he plans on ending his life in a Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. He’s promised his mother to delay these plans for six months in order to weigh his decision properly, and thus, Lou is charged with being the last-ditch effort in helping Will change his mind. Armed with quirky adorkable charm and a big binder full of exciting outings and holidays to go on with Will, Lou is determined to show Will that his life still has meaning.
My first instinct when watching the trailer for Me Before You, was to think “Right, so it’s a sappy chick-flick rip-off of the wonderful and immensely moving French film The Intouchables (2011).” And to be honest, my hasty judgement wasn’t too far from the truth. Replace The Intouchables’ terrific chemistry with saccharine limpness, and substitute the clever humour for on-the-nose emotional manipulation, and you’re already halfway toward getting an idea of what Thea Sharrock’s Me Before You is like.
There’s nothing quite like a mixture of class-divides and medical misfortune to get the water-works going, and had director Thea Sharrock spent a little more time thinking about how to make her main characters come to life and a little less time talking to the costume department about what quirky mismatched outfit to put Clarke in next, maybe we would have been given a better film to watch.
The most irritating thing about this film is the fact that it had the potential to be good. Moyes’ book was a huge success, which would suggest that the story was at least somewhat worthwhile. But while the book delves deeper into the aspects of life for someone who has lost all mobility, the film seems to wade into uncomfortable, thought-provoking territory, only to scurry back to the safe, reliable harbour of fluffy, epidermal rom-com land.
While the film flirts salaciously with complicated issues like euthanasia and the realities of quadriplegia, it never seems to get enough courage to face these hot topics head-on, instead hover-handing over these important issues without any kind of gumption or confidence. Perhaps Sharrock was trying hard not to concentrate on the challenging and difficult aspects of living with quadriplegia, but in that case, why bother making this film at all?
By glossing over the torturous agony Will must be going through after the accident by never really addressing his pain, the film seems to be telling us that being a quadriplegic isn’t really that bad after all. Through Sharrock’s decision to leave out the often grim and gory details of disability, thereby “normalising” Will’s situation, she is effectively negating his reasoning for wanting to be euthanised, thus leaving the viewer confused and unprepared when this issue is finally addressed in the film.
Although one of the main themes of “Me Before You” is what life is like living with a disability, it skirts around its own main focus with such timidity and delicacy that when we do finally get to the big moments of importance in the film, they seem vapid and out-of -place, especially with all-too predictable lilt of Ed Sheeran’s voice dangly limply in the background like a crooked neon sign screaming “LOOK, WE’RE TRYING TO BE EMOTIONAL, IT’S TIME TO CRY NOW.” Even the 2014 teen-flick The Fault in Our Stars which addresses similar issues of living with serious medical difficulties tackles these themes with more conviction and honesty, leaving me to wonder how it is that Sharrock got the telling of this story so wrong.
Sharrock’s background has, up until now, mainly been in theatre, and it’s not hard to tell while watching Me Before You that this is her first film. With laughable montage scenes that look like someone was simply standing in the background shouting at Emilia Clarke to make “happy face”, “sad face”, “pensive face”, and with one-too-many instances of jokes that fell flat, Me Before You has very little that is salvageable except for Emilia Clarke’s undeniable charm and Sam Claflin’s swoon-worthy good looks.
In what could have been a pioneering film about the politics of euthanasia and what it means to be faced with choice of life or death, Me Before You lies lifeless on the screen, choosing safety over courage, tiptoeing on eggshells lest it make any kind of conscious statement. Sadly not even Emilia Clarke’s over-active eyebrows can lift enough life into this film to give it any semblance of worth.(1.5 / 5)
(Photos copyright: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, New Line Cinema)