Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Premise: A working class woman (Emilia Clarke) is hired to be the companion and caretaker of a wealthy but recently paralyzed young man (Sam Claflin). She discovers that her wheelchair bound companion intends to commit suicide and she sets out to change his mind.
What Works: Me Before You is a love story and the movie succeeds as well as it does due to the performances by its two lead actors. Emilia Clarke is cast as Lou, a working-class woman who is down on her luck financially, stuck in a rural town, and lives with her parents. Clarke is best known for her role as Daenerys Targaryen on the television series Game of the Thrones, where she is regal and stoic but as Lou the actress plays an entirely different kind of character and Clarke demonstrates impressive range in Me Before You. This could be just a goofy character but the script gives Lou intelligence and depth. Lou is a very pleasant person with an eccentric style of dress and the energy, charm, and awkwardness that Emilia Clarke brings to the role is endearing. She’s paired with Sam Claflin as Will, a young man from an aristocratic family who has been paralyzed from the chest down after an accident. The story puts Claflin in a tough spot. The character is bitter and angry about his circumstances and he takes his frustration out on Lou and the other people in his life. The challenge for Claflin is that the film requires him to be an ass but for the love story to work he must retain some level of empathy and Claflin mostly succeeds. The filmmakers gradually reveal Will’s interior life and Lou and Will fall for each other in a way that is convincing. Love stories hinge on whether or not the audience will want to see the couple get together and Emilia Clark and Sam Claflin have a fun rapport that makes for an engaging romantic couple.
What Doesn’t: Me Before You is afflicted with some especially bad editing. The assembly of shots within a scene and the juxtaposition of one scene against another should be seamless but the edits in Me Before You are sometimes clumsy. The filmmakers use fade outs that give this motion picture the look of a television program. The worst editing is found in the ending. An especially poignant moment—the emotional climax of the movie—is ruined by sloppy cutting between camera angles. Me Before You also lapses into sentimentality. There are at least three montages set to soppy pop ballads in which the movie stops to wrench an emotional reaction from the audience. In addition to being overbearing, these montages are unnecessary because the actors sufficiently built up the pathos appeal of the love story. But more than anything, Me Before You suffers from its optics. This is the story of a man who intends to commit suicide because of his medical condition. The filmmakers try to inject some nuance; we’re told through the exposition that Claflin’s character is in a great deal of pain but his suffering is not dramatized on screen. He’s never shown in pain or coping with the harsh difficulties of paralysis. As a result, Me Before You—intentionally or not—presents the audience with a character who, despite being paralyzed, lives a very privileged life but spends most of the movie feeling sorry for himself. Will’s determination to end his life is supposed to be a matter of dignity but because of the way the character is presented he comes across solipsistic and even selfish. The movie’s take on dignity and the value of life is further compromised by its relationship to wealth. The film links money and materialism with a reason to live. Without giving too much away, there is a condescending classism to this movie as the characters attempt to purchase happiness for each other. This counters whatever message about dignity that the film is trying to convey.
Bottom Line: Me Before You has some great performances by its two lead actors and their on-screen chemistry makes the movie watchable. But the film is also confused about what it is trying to say about dignity and human life.
Episode: #598 (June 12, 2016)