Me Before You Review
New British rom-com Me Before You is simultaneously lovely and perturbing. Based on the bestselling book by Jojo Moyes, it is on the one hand, a real tear-jerker, led by a radiant Emilia Clarke. However, as many campaigners have since commented, its portrayal of disability makes for an uncomfortable watch.
Clarke stars as Lou, a young woman who accepts a job as a carer for Will (Sam Claflin). Once a jet-setting banker, Will was paralysed from the chest down following a road accident. Lou makes it her mission to cheer up her sullen patient - and the two fall in love.
The film is for the most part rather entertaining. It’s great fun to watch Lou, with her unconquerable cheerfulness and idiosyncratic wardrobe, shake up Will’s life. Clarke is entirely transformed, her enthusiasm infectious. By her side, Matthew Lewis makes a hilarious sweaty turn as Lou’s fitness obsessed boyfriend Patrick, while Jenna Coleman is heart-warming as her sister and confidante.
This all takes place on a charming backdrop: first-time feature director Thea Sharrock captures lovingly the pretty town of Pembroke in which the film was shot, from its romantic ruined castle to cute cafés and quaint houses.
In addition, watching Me Before you is a little bit like playing a satisfying who’s who of up-and-coming British actors - the cast features stars from Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, the Divergent series, The Hunger Games, Dr Who, and Harry Potter.
However, despite this, Me Before You sticks closely to rom-com form, often in uncomfortable ways. For instance, Lou’s character runs close to the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ trope. In the words of film critic, Nathan Rabin, who coined the term, a MPDG is:“ that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists … to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Despite the story being told from her perspective, we never find out much about what Lou wants: her energies are entirely focused on cheering up her patient instead.
Thrown into this is an uncomfortable class dimension. Posher and wealthier Will opens Lou’s horizons, yet in a way that is patronising. He belittles her ambition to study fashion; teases her for not watching foreign films. Worse, Lou effects no real equivalent change in him (which would have made it at least a fair exchange). What’s more, upon discovering that Lou’s father is unemployed, Will promptly bestows him with a job on his family estate. We’re supposed to think it’s romantic.
Then, there’s the ending. There’s no way of explaining why without spoilers, but suffice to say that it has upset many people living with a disability, and with reason. Sharrock and Moyes (who also wrote the script) do try to make it clear that this is an individual case, and that the film is in no way making a statement. Yet this isn’t enough: the conclusion creates a real sense of uneasiness.
As a result (and paradoxically), while it’s a real challenge not to cry while watching the film’s last twenty minutes, they’re also cheaply dramatic, and rather unsatisfying. It’s effective storytelling muddled by a distressing message.
It’s a pity, because Me Before You is otherwise made with great skill. The rom-com tropes could have been forgiven, had the ending not been so unpleasant. As it stands, it risks being remembered for only the latter.