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Film Review – Me Before You

3 min read

Emilia Clarke stars as Louisa (she prefers Lou) Clark, a bubbly 26 year-old waitress from a struggling working class family in this adaptation of Jojo Moyes’ hugely popular 2012 romantic novel Me Before You. Lou seems to be leading a pleasant if somewhat prosaic existence in a quiet English village when we first meet her. She lives with her parents Bernard (Brendan Coyle) and Josie (Samantha Spiro) and her younger sister Treena (Jenna Coleman), works at the local café and dates Patrick (Matthew Lewis), a mildly self-absorbed personal trainer. Lou is jolted out of her comfortable complacence when she loses her job and is forced to accept a six month assignment as a caretaker so she can continuing supporting her family financially.

Her new employer is Camilla Traynor (Janet McTeer), an elegantly intimidating aristocrat who tasks Lou with caring for her son Will (Sam Claflin), a quadriplegic in his early thirties who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident two years previously. Camilla assures Lou that she won’t have to provide any genuine medical assistance, there’s a friendly Aussie nurse called Nathan (Steve Peacocke) to handle all the unsightly physical stuff offscreen. She’s more like a puppy that Camilla gives her son as present to amuse him and ease his loneliness. Adorable, eager to please, slightly stupid (as the movie reminds us several times) Lou fits the bill perfectly, but Will doesn’t appear charmed by his garrulous new pet at first.

Me Before You still

He remains remote and sardonic for the first few weeks as Lou shows up at his door day after day in a series of obnoxiously twee, ill-fitting ensembles, grinning her enormous grin and offering to make him a cup of tea, but it’s not long before Will’s contemptuous scowl melts away and he begins to regard her with affection. He introduces her to new things like classical music and movies with subtitles while she coaxes him into sharing more personal details about himself. The two grow closer and romantic feeling are starting to stir in both Will and Lou when she discovers that he plans to end his life at the end of her six month assignment with the aid of an assisted suicide organization in Switzerland. Lou recovers from her initial devastation with some help from her sister and decides to devote her remaining time as Will’s caretaker to convincing him that life is worth living.

Like many romantic movie heroines Emilia Clarke’s Lou is an assemblage of blandly relatable, largely passive character traits. She’s pretty, chatty, sweet, selfless, into fashion and not particularly bright. In other words, Lou is the essence of insipid likeability. Perhaps in an attempt to compensate actress Emilia Clarke manically overacts and director Thea Sharrock compounds the problem by frequently shooting Clarke in close up so that the strain on her face is uncomfortably evident. In fairness to Clarke she does do fairly well in the film’s comedic moments, and she and Claflin have decent chemistry. The romantic scenes may have had a more compelling and authentic intimacy had Sharrock chosen to deal more directly with the physical reality of Will’s quadriplegia, but one supposes she was prevented by Moyes’ screenplay.

It can be tempting to avoid any critical discussion of the flaws of a film like Me Before You, a romance adapted from a wildly popular book with a legion of deeply invested fans. One does not want to appear patronizing towards the millions of women (and handful of men) who are going to earnestly love the film, or seem to suggest that they are somehow naïve or unsophisticated for doing so. However exempting Me Before You from scrutiny simply because it belongs to an often dismissed and derided cinematic genre would be far worse.