Me Before You
Thea Sharrock’s Me Before You adapts the Jojo Moyes bestselling novel of the same name to tell the story of a small town girl who falls for a paralysed man she is employed to take care of.
Emilia Clarke plays Louisa Clark, the small town girl in question who is very much a prisoner of her situation. Her family need financial help so she holds down a job to help them out and initially has no wider dreams outside of her small bubble. It’s not something she resents or feels morbid about as she simply accepts her reality being the way it is. She even points out that she likes her life and her optimism sets the tone for the film. I found it refreshing to have a character living a “boring” life who doesn’t outwardly resent it. Louisa is an optimistic person who makes the best out of what she has. She focuses on the good things in her life rather than the bad and that makes a really big difference as to how she caries the film.
She finds a huge challenge when accepting the job of being the carer for a disabled rich man named Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). He is completely paralysed from the waist down and is a prisoner of that situation just as Louisa is. The difference is that he is literally a prisoner because his disability prevents him from doing anything without extensive assistance.
Will’s outlook is pretty much the opposite of Louisa’s. He’s standoffish to those around him and deeply resents his situation to the point that it depresses him. Nothing in his life seems good to him so he entirely focuses on the bad. His negative outlook is an effective counter to Louisa’s bubbly positivity and it causes them to butt heads frequently throughout the film.
I’ve watched the trailers for this film and they are edited to make this out to be a love story which it definitely is but that’s not all it is. At its core it’s a story about dignity and taking control of your own destiny in the best way you can. For Louisa that means embracing the fact that there’s a world outside her bubble and for Will it’s more about finding something worth living for.
Having him find something worth living for is a very important story in making this film work and I was in two minds about whether I should talk about how the film explores this as it could technically count as a spoiler. The trailers don’t make explicit reference to it but the idea is in there and could be taken from them. Ultimately I decided that my review will be better if I do talk about it considering how significant it is so apologies if this counts as a spoiler for those who haven’t seen it but consider this a mild spoiler warning.
Will has agreed to allow his parents to have 6 months to change his mind about engaging in an assisted suicide. He feels like less of a person due to his situation and doesn’t want to be a burden on anyone else. For him, taking his own life is being in control of his destiny the only he can so the film is largely about Louisa’s efforts to convince him that he does have things to live for.
You might think that it would get predictable from this point on with them falling in love and Will deciding that he should continue living to be with Louisa but the film doesn’t take that predictable course. Will and Louise do slowly fall for one another and Will does find something in life to be happy about but it doesn’t change his mind. Falling in love with Louisa just means that there’s one more person that he refuses to be a burden on so the narrative is focused on him enjoying the time he has left rather than changing his mind about whether he should go through with his plan or not.
I was really impressed with this idea as having a disability like that won’t always have a happy ending. Some people wouldn’t be able to deal with it on an emotional or psychological level so having Will plan to end his life and stick to his guns on that was a brave choice and possibly not one that audiences will feel comfortable with. I’m guessing that the novel plays out much the same way but that is only speculation.
The movie is entertaining enough for the most part but starts to drag a little during the midpoint. Some scenes just didn’t have the impact that they needed so I began to lose interest. Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin have good chemistry together but Clarke has a tendency to overact. Louisa is definitely supposed to be an incredibly passionate person and in some scenes that worked but in others I felt that Clarke was overdoing it. Sam Claflin is largely passive throughout the film but brings enough personality to Will to make that feel intentional.
I felt that the love story between them grew organically and I found it believable when they confessed their feelings for one another. None of it felt rushed and they always kept the adversarial edge to their relationship that made their interactions interesting to watch in the first place.
Another big problem here is the supporting characters who feel like just that. Will’s parents come and go throughout the narrative and only appear when they have to deliver a choice bit of dialogue. Jenna Coleman as Louisa’s sister Katrina has an implied side story that seems to be interesting but is never explored nor is her relationship with Louisa so whenever they have scenes together she feels like someone for Louisa to bounce ideas off rather than a character in her own right. Other supporting characters suffer similar fates so the world around Will and Louisa doesn’t ever feel real.
An entertaining film that explores an idea that is bound to divide opinion in a really brave way. The main characters are engaging and the plot isn’t entirely predictable with enough surprises thrown in to make the whole thing stand out. Supporting characters don’t do as well and the pacing lags a lot in the middle but despite that there is a lot to recommend here.
- strong performances
- engaging lead characters
- a brave approach to a difficult subject
- an organically developed love story
- weak side characters
- pacing that lags in the middle