Going into watch Me Before You, my initial thoughts were that this film was going to be yet another typical ‘chick flick’. One filled with unrealistic romance, predictable storytelling and plenty of awkward tear-jerker moments for the ladies. And while I was not too far off the mark, the movie was still able to surprise me, thanks largely to strong performances and great chemistry by its leads.
Me Before You is based on the best-selling book of the same name by Jojo Moyes, who adapted her tale into the screenplay for the film. Normally that is a sign of danger straight away, as many authors struggle to condense their stories suitably enough for film. However, she does a good job here in setting up the characters and providing what was needed to fully understand them, without drawing out the scenes too much.
The story revolves around a 20-something woman named Louisa Clark, played by Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones). She is feeling the pressure as a bread-winner for her family, with both parents unemployed and struggling to find jobs in a small English village. Out of desperation she decides to take on the job of a caregiver to troubled Will Traynor, played by Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games), who was rendered quadriplegic following a motor bike accident. In contrast to her situation he comes from a wealthy family and successful past. The pair are initially at odds with each other and have little interest in wanting to work together. This awkwardness creates much of the tension and conflict between the two.
While Will has been having a really hard time coming to terms with his disability, Louisa decides to change his perspective and renew his will to live by taking him on big adventures and outings. As mentioned, the plot can be quite predictable at times, but there are still many moments which might not play out as you would expect – unless you have read the book of course.
What stands out the most in this film is the strong chemistry between Clarke and Claflin, whose performances come across as authentic and believable. Part of this is down to the pacing of the script which allows enough time to pass for the relationship to develop naturally. Too many films rush these types of romances and while the Me Before You‘s pacing may be relatively slower as a result, it feels more believable to its audience.
Some moments in the film involving the other cast members do feel a little stretched and over-played though. In particular, Matthew Lewis who plays Louisa’s boyfriend Kevin (yes, its complicated) or both sets of parents (Charles Dance and Janet McTeer as the Traynors and Brendan Coyle and Jenna Coleman as the Clarks). They all come across as a little too stereotypical in their performances. This was likely more down to the original Me Before You script than through any fault of their own.
The direction by Thea Sharrock also works the script quite well. She builds her scenes thoughtfully, focusing on key moments of the characters and allowing the leads to flourish in their own scenes by suitably focusing on details in their facial expressions to tell the hidden conflict. There are also plenty of time lapse moments and details to help show time passing, but done well enough to not become too tedious.
As to the other aspects of the film (like the cinematography and editing) it all comes across fine here. Nothing stellar, but remaining solid. The film’s soundtrack is a mixture of strings and modern pop songs though, which, while suiting some moments in the film, does not work well in others. A full orchestral score might have worked better for some important scenes.
Now the film has been receiving a lot of criticism from certain groups over its poor portrayal of how helpless Will feels as a paraplegic as opposed to showing a more upbeat view of living with a disability. And while I can understand these criticisms, I have no issues with the direction Moyes takes in portraying a different side of the story.
What the film doesn’t handle particularly well though is the controversial topic of euthanasia which forms a large plot driver in the film. And while it’s difficult to talk about it without going into spoiler territory, this was clumsily handled and not enough motivation built in to create the films viewpoint. It seems obvious there are things missing from the book that didn’t translate well to the screen in this aspect of the film. What could’ve made the film a whole lot more thought provoking and intense is rushed over and left light for the audience, which I feel was a possible trick missed by both Moyes and Sharrock here.
As a whole though, while Me Before You offers up most of what you might expect from a romantic drama, it just does it better than most of them. Yes, its predictable but it’s also convincing, and well-acted and refreshing enough to not feel too clichéd.
Last Updated: July 6, 2016