Emilia Clarke in Me Before You
Movies about people falling in love when one of them is dying is a particular sub-genre of romantic drama, and the latest entry into the field is Me Before You, a tearjerker adapted by Jojo Moyes from her novel of the same name, and directed by Thea Sharrock, a stage director making her feature film debut. It stars Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke as the wide-eyed affection-object, and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) as the suitably Byronic romantic hero—he’s the one who is living-impaired and we’re supposed to care deeply about their odds of falling in love when one of them is dying.
The central conceit of Me Before You is that Lou (Clarke), a charming but uncouth young woman, meets Will (Claflin), a dashing but depressed young man, just when he’s decided to stop living. You see, Will was paralyzed in an accident and is now a quadriplegic, and despite having a family fortune to help him obtain top-line equipment and assistance—Lou is only one of his caretakers—Will wants to die by assisted suicide because he can’t stand being in a wheelchair. Not even Lou’s love is enough to tempt him to change his mind. Death, for Will, is preferable to a life spent in a wheelchair, even if that life is still full with family, friends, and loved ones.
UPROXX’s Brian Grubb nailed the representation issues at play, and the need for more narratives about disabled people than just this one, so I’m just going to stick to what is specifically wrong with this movie, which is a lot. On a technical level Sharrock’s direction is merely adequate—she certainly did better work with the television adaptation of Henry V she directed for the BBC’s The Hollow Crown. And in other departments, this is the kind of movie where we know the heroine is a whimsical person because she wears fuzzy sweaters and colorful tights. Maybe Jojo Moyes’ book is better but her script is one-dimensional and contrived.
The main problem is the wheelchair, and the body of the person in it. People recoil from Will as if he’s a leper—of course there are rude people who stare at people in wheelchairs, and ask inappropriate, invasive questions, but to act as if this is the only type of person differently-abled people meet is ridiculous. Will’s life is filled with disgusted strangers, overbearing parents, and the impossibly simple Lou. Any suggestion that there may be a life, however unexpected or different, worth living in a wheelchair is ignored to feed Will’s suicide story. It’s just gross. There’s no other way to describe it, except “offensive”.
By the time we get to the inevitable ending, any goodwill the actors could possibly dredge up is long gone. A movie about a person struggling to come to terms with an unimaginable reality is one thing, but Me Before You isn’t interested in actually exploring that headspace, it just wants to insert wheelchairs into a paint-by-numbers tearjerker that only ends the way it does because it is structured to actively prevent change. A movie about a moron and a selfish git is inherently unromantic, and the dramatic beats are so false as to border on satirical. Me Before You is like a two-hour SNL skit parodying a bad romantic drama starring a baby-person and a sociopath. This movie can go f*ck itself.