Me Before You (2016)
Directed by Thea Sharrock
In the field of romance movies that might release any given year, you might find one or two flowers amongst a bed of weeds. I’m not ready to call “Me Before You” the prettiest of the bunch, but among the uglier, more cliché-riddled “Walk to Remember”s and “Last Song”s of the world, “Me Before You” is worth a passing glance.
In rural England there lives a girl, Louisa (Emilia Clarke), whose odd jobs help support her family while her dad (Brenden Coyle, “Downton Abbey”) is unemployed. When the diner she’s been waitressing at for six years is forced out of business, Louisa finds a temporary job as a caretaker of sorts, for a quadriplegic man, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a handsome former adventurer from a well-off noble family who lost use of his limbs when he was struck by a motorcycle two years ago. He also lost, more or less, his will to live. The charming and bubbly Louisa is hired to try to cheer him up and give him hope, but it seems from the start that he’s unwilling to let himself have any.
I’ve always contended that British is better. If a terrible America-set movie is recast with British actors and re-filmed in British locations, the movie will automatically be less terrible. So maybe it’s just my tea-colored glasses, but “Me Before You” rises above all those schlocky American movies with similar themes of romance under unusual circumstances. Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) has an infectious smile and an undeniably cheerful demeanor that makes it near impossible to hate her. She’s the perfect fit for Louisa, a loud dresser with a confident but quiet personality. Clarke stars in the biggest show in the world, but the actress keeps out of the spotlight. So she makes the perfect everygirl—experienced in acting, but not so recognizable that it takes us out of the movie. (Also, side note: How about “Love A-Khaleesi” for an alternate title…huh? get it???). As Finnick Odair in the last three “Hunger Games” movies, Sam Claflin captured the hearts of young girls across the country. Here, he’s as charismatic as someone so hopeless as his character could hope to be. His witty lines drive his character, with a screenplay written by JoJo Moyes, who adapted her own bestselling novel. But when he needs to tug heartstrings, he can’t convey the right emotions. Neither can Clarke. These actors aren’t up to the task of capitalizing when the tears are welling in the corner of your eyes, waiting to fall. Begging to fall. Instead, despite the promotional tissues handed out before the screening I attended, my cheeks remained dry. The box of Kleenex remained unopened.
Despite this, and despite the predictable Nicholas Sparks-esque twist that gets them to that pivotal moment in the story, “Me Before You” is a lovely romance with two remarkably likable leads who share a chemistry that you don’t often see. To pass if off as something like “The Longest Ride” or “The Fault in Our Stars” would be a big mistake.