Me Before You, 2016.
Directed by Thea Sharrock.
Starring Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Jenna Coleman, Brendan Coyle, Samantha Spiro, Matthew Lewis, Stephen Peacocke and Charles Dance.
A girl in a small town forms an unlikely bond with a recently-paralyzed man she’s taking care of.
As a disabled man myself (although I wasn’t an extreme sports athlete that was struck by a motorcycle, but rather someone born with Muscular Dystrophy), Me Before You is a rare movie, where (and forgive me if this sounds egotistical) my thoughts will hold more weight than the average critic, whether they liked the movie or not. I’m sure this has happened before to other people with different delicate subject matter and other films, but in this case, it’s really not hard for me to feel for Will (Sam Claflin) in numerous situations and personally connect on an emotional level. For starters, a lighthearted successful attempt at a very realistic comedic scenario like his motorized wheelchair getting stuck in some mud; that has happened to me, and it sucks. Does all this make my review biased? That’s your call, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that at some points, I did understand the character’s mindset, even the darkest ones.
The movie shies away from nothing, whether it is that feeling of helplessness from needing to be fed and dressed, the constant battles with pneumonia (exploring this at all was a welcome surprise considering it’s pretty much all accurate for disabled people fighting the illness), to a really powerful speech during a heated romantic moment where Will discusses the possible regret his love interest Louisa (Emilia Clarke) may face from loving him, going as far as expressing how frustrating it would be to see her naked knowing there isn’t much he could do to satisfy her sexually.
Again, this is serious stuff the movie is dealing with, so without a great degree of authenticity, the movie would just become a load of crap. I have never read the book, but it is clear that the script for Me Before You (also scribed by author Jojo Moyes), and her writing doesn’t use a quadriplegic as an easy method of pulling on the heartstrings. It will most likely leave people sobbing by the time the credits roll, but the core narrative, analysis of paralyzed man’s depression (it also helps that Will was highly physical and quite the daredevil before his accident, making the contrast between able-bodied Will and broken Will all the more empathetic), care-giving from his assistant nurses, and of course, the full on romance that develops between him and Louisa (complete with vibrant charm, quirkiness, and a bubbly personality that make for Emilia Clark’s most accomplished role to date, and yes that includes Game of Thrones), is all handled with maturity. That doesn’t mean it’s the best written movie of the year (some of the dialogue is pretty cheesy), but that everyone from the author and the filmmakers had respect for the sensitive material they were throwing themselves into.
I never factor in the comments of other critics when expressing my own thoughts, but it is personally frustrating reading a few of the negative ones (as of this writing the consensus is split right down the middle with some loving the movie and others downright despising it) that feel obligated to point out that this movie may possibly be offensive to actual paralyzed human beings. The simple fact of the matter is, it’s not. For as frustrating as the ending is, it does come from a place, where, even though that the characters could have been more fully realized and defined, the events that transpire are still understandable and acceptable.
Me Before You isn’t just a powerful piece of cinema due to successfully handling its serious plot assuredly and with confidence, as there are also some legitimately great performances from everyone involved. Emilia Clarke is a free spirit and infectious to the point where it really is believable that Will would slowly break out of his self-pitying and depression to be more cheerful around her. At the end of the day, it’s still another Hollywood production where two ridiculously attractive specimens fall in love with each other, but even so, there are attempts to carve out the relationship as one human being falling in love with another human being for their personalities. There is a scene where Will introduces Louisa to French foreign cinema, which could have ended in a disaster, but doesn’t; Louisa genuinely likes what she has been shown, subsequently amplifying the sheer strenght of cinema as an art-form, presenting it as a wonderful bonding experience activity for the two; his brain still works, which means that the two can enjoy passive activities together.
Unfortunately, a few characters are horribly written, most notably Louisa’s actual boyfriend. What purpose to the movie does he serve besides being a complete idiot? It’s hard to imagine Louisa dating someone like him in the first place, and at no point will anyone ever question where her true feelings really lie. The point is also made that Louisa’s family is in desperate need of money (that’s why she took the job in the first place and also didn’t quit at first when Will was basically an ass), but no one will ever really feel their struggle. Most likely, it was more explored in-depth in the novel.
Still, the attention to detail and powerful performances on-hand from Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin elevate something potentially catastrophically bad into a genuinely affecting piece of drama. Sure, there is romance at the center of the movie, but Me Before You doesn’t deserve to be exclusively tossed into one category; it is something much more deeper and profound than your average hokey love story. You cannot change who people are, but you can accept them for who they are, giving and taking to do everything in your power to make both people’s lives special while they last.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★