"Me Before You" was made to appeal to the lowest common denominator. In spite of myself, though, I was moved by and I enjoyed this film.
"Me Before You" is a romance between a perky, poor, not spectacularly beautiful girl and a rich, suicidal, model-handsome quadriplegic. You may have begun gagging already. I understand, and believe me, everything that you fear may be wrong with such a film is wrong with this film. It talks down to its audience. Its play with dangerous ideas is a child playing with matches. And yet, I cried.
I think two things save "Me Before You" in spite of all that's wrong with it.
Sam Claflin plays the part of Will Traynor, the rich, handsome, suicidal quadriplegic. Claflin is young, ripped, and handsome enough to be in a toothpaste commercial. He is really good. I believed everything he did. I was right there with him. I felt his pain and desperation.
Janet McTeer, a multiple-award-winning actress, is the soul of the film. She plays Will's mother. She is given very little to do, but she pops in and out regularly. There is an infinite sadness and terror in her eyes. I'm a former nurse's aide and I'm very familiar with dealing with family members of afflicted people. Janet McTeer is superb. She shows the exact strength, vulnerability, and hoping-against-hope of the loved ones of the wounded and doomed.
"Me Before You"'s plot doesn't do anything you wouldn't expect it to. If you go to the movies to be surprised or intrigued, stop right now. But you already knew that when you saw the movie poster of the perky girl sitting on the lap of the very handsome man in a wheelchair, as they gaze lovingly into each other's eyes.
"Me Before You" takes place in the England that exists only in the imagination of fans of Masterpiece Theater, Jane Austen adaptations, and Merchant Ivory films. This is very much not the England of Sadiq Khan and Brexit or even of royal family scandals.
There are very rich people who also have good taste. There are poor people who are warm, simple-minded, and humble, not at all resentful or bitter about their place. Sort of like Hobbits. There is sweeping, green countryside defined by rambling stone walls and trout streams. There is a big, fat castle – yes, really – overlooking everything.
Weather? It's either blue skies, burgeoning lilacs and hydrangeas, or gently drifting snow outlining the castle battlements, or perfectly formed autumn leaves. Thomas Kinkade is the meteorologist.
Louisa "Lou" Clark is a cutie pie poor girl. Emilia Clarke, who plays Louisa, telegraphs how adorable Lou is in every scene. She is constantly dimpling her cheeks and wriggling her eyebrows as if they were migrating caterpillars looking for a leaf to pupate on. Look, if you wanted to smack Emilia Clarke during every scene of "Me Before You," could you please send me a Facebook friend request? Does the word "subtlety" appear in Emilia Clarke's dictionary? Or "teamwork"? In every scene she demands attention. Actors should never work with babies, animals, or Emilia Clarke.
Lou is supposed to be really poor. Lou never wears the same item of clothing twice. Her clothes are unique designer finds. Her shoes alone would go for a few hundred bucks. Oh, but she's this noble poor girl. Yeah, right.
The filmmakers here keyed their film to teenage girls who love clothes more than life itself and who have short attention spans. My utterly subjective estimate: no scene in the film lasts for more than ninety seconds. You think there's going to be a serious discussion, or even three consecutive lines of dialogue, about the issues at play here: can afflicted people live worthwhile lives? Is suicide ethical? Will this film encourage the handicapped to off themselves? But that never happens.
It's safe to guess that Will's quadriplegia is, to the filmmakers, merely a plot device. Tweener girls find guys attractive, but are anxious about real physical intimacy and all it entails. Also, tweener girls don't want to be obliterated by masculinity. They want to exist in a world where they are the center. And, tweener girls are anxious that they aren't pretty enough.
Thus, "Me Before You" gives tweener girls a very handsome, ripped hero who couldn't engage in physical intimacy even if he wanted to. And he is so needy and so isolated that the tweener girl's cuteness and spunkiness and fashion choices become the center of his world. And she doesn't have to be beautiful to be the center of the universe to this handsome guy who, if he were not a quadriplegic, would be the hottest date in town.
Yes, it is all pretty awful, right down to Lou's boyfriend, who is an endurance athlete obsessed with his physical performance, but insensitive to Lou's emotional needs – he is meant to contrast with the lovable quadriplegic. One man can run but can't feel. One man can feel but can't walk. Oh good grief.
And yet I cried while watching this film. In spite of everything, Claflin's and McTeer's performances opened my heart.
I also review "Free State of Jones" here
and "The Conjuring 2" here