Self-adapted by author Jojo Moyes, Me Before You has an interesting conceit, yet consistently undermines it by resorting to cheap and ever predictable rom-com cliches that have a habit of irritating beyond belief. Louisa (Emilia Clarke), a quirky and bouncy twenty-something, spends her life supporting her hard-to-do family. When she’s fired from one job, she finds another caring for paraplegic Will (Sam Claflin), despite her clear lack of knowledge and experience in the field. His identity taken away, Will has resigned himself to the fact that his life is over, so much so that he’s already dead set on committing suicide in six months time.
Not one to let things go easily, Louisa decides to make those last six months count in a bid to change Will’s mind. From here, the film plays out almost exactly as expected, Moyes’ script treading all the familiar rom-com beats as Louisa fumbles and desperately tries to win Will over, both in heart and mind. Their initial clashes of personality start to weaken and they share moments together, many of which are encapsulated into montages laid over whichever Ed Sheeran track is the most emotionally manipulating. Clarke does her best to imbue Louisa with some life. The character, who wears bumble-bee socks and dresses as if constantly unable to see, comes over as annoying at first, but warms in the end as Clarke puts much of herself into the role, making Louisa irresistibly likeable, even despite her blinkered view. Claflin can do smug charm in his sleep, but Will is never anything more than a pessimistic downer who can’t see how his life can continue now he’s unable to be an adrenaline junkie and sleep with blondes with nice asses. All of this is a shame when you consider the difficult subject matter the script – and Moyes’ source material – addresses.
Many disability charities and organisations have spoken out against the films depiction of disability and it’s easy to see why. It tackles none of the day to day problems surrounding Will’s trauma, such as his overwhelming pain or inability to do even the most simple of tasks himself. Instead, the camera spends half the time avoiding that his bottom half even exists, pulling focus onto Claflin’s smarmy face and ignoring everything else. There’s complexities there somewhere, but Me Before You seems, like Louisa herself, blinkered on one thing and one thing alone – making audiences cry whatever means necessary, whether there’s any authenticity to it or not.
Jamie Neish | @EmptyScreens