“Put yourself first for once.”
To make a stranger cry is a much easier thing to do than making them care. The reactionary rush of tears come almost naturally and unconsciously, like a yawn spurred by another yawn. And so is the case with Me Before You. It’s an errant and ersatz film. Always slight in its message, never serious enough about the grave subject manner at hand. I’m not sure such a story could exist before now; an age whose motto seems to be, “You can’t spell society without I.” After all, this is the generation of necks fixed at 45 degrees, so Me Before You thinks it smart to ask us to look up and to look out. The main worry is that what we’re presented is such a sight for sore eyes.
Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) works at the local bakery serving up pastries and treats as sweet as her own personality. Lou’s quirky, klutzy, and a knockout beauty who doesn’t know she’s all that pleasant to look at. She gave up her pursuit of fashion at the university to help the family, and a father out of work has her scrambling for any job to help provide. This brings her to the castle gates of the Traynor estate, hoping to land the position as quadriplegic Will’s (Sam Claflin) caretaker. Lou isn’t asked to do much other than to keep him company, a chore Will ignores by being sniffling and rude and mean. Remember the title and all of the foreboding implications that come from it when watching their relationship eventually blossom. The flower sure looks real from a distance, but up close is obviously made of dyed silk and cheap plastic petals.
Me Before You is what I like to call a poster film because the only substantial pieces reside in the one sheet. A red-dressed pretty woman sharing a gaze with a handsome man. Their conversations and life adventures reveal little interpersonal detail or chemistry, even if the performers almost take us there. It’s clear that Emilia Clarke is an infectiously kind and lovely woman, but she simply overacts this time, constantly tweaking her cheeks and twinging her eyes and manipulating her brows into nonlinear functions. The performance falls flat. As for Claflin – a natural charmer – the guy is stuck playing an unlikable man who refuses sympathy. Claflin needs to be a romance star, but after Love, Rosie last year and now this one, he simply hasn’t had the material to do his talent justice.
Having read the book years ago, I couldn’t help but shake my head at how superficial, unworldly, and cosmetic Jojo Moyes’ script adaptation of her novel allows itself to be. Nobody matters outside of Lou and Will, save for the informative yet uninstrumental nurse/friend Nathan (Stephen Peacocke). This is a cheaply made film, frugally told, placidly unconcerned with its own erratic theme. Me Before You starts as simple schlock and develops into a sort of self-aggrandizing monster, bringing up issues of absolute control over personal choice in life or death circumstances. Might it make you reach for a tissue? In most cases, yes. Should it change your perception on the selflessness of love? The absolute answer is no, because it pawns its selfish deeds off as unrequited acts of sacrifice. If you want an emotionally invested film dealing with the same touchy subject matter minus the cheap sugar high, I suggest the Oscar Winning The Sea Inside. Sure, it’s Spanish with subtitles. But in one scene, even the halfwits in Me Before You are smart enough to acknowledge that reading a movie isn’t all that bad.
“When I’m nervous I say stupid stuff.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5