Low expectations often boost a film’s chances of getting a higher rating, at least, it does for this reviewer. Romcoms, particularly those that desperately want tearjerker status (as is done so popularly, albeit cloyingly, by Nicolas Sparks), often struggle to maintain a balance between humour and drama without becoming saccharine. So it was with a sigh-let’s-get-this-over-with attitude many reviewers approached Me Before You, adapted from a chick-lit novel of the same name by Jojo Moyes.
When Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is fired from the bakery she works at, she urgently needs a new job. She’s the only one in her family – parents, sister and nephew – who’s earning an income (though it’s unclear how she had been doing that on a waitress’ salary). Ever the optimist, Lou finds work as a caregiver to a young man, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a former London banker who became a quadriplegic after a motorcycle crashed in to him while he was hailing a cab. Will’s filthy rich parents want a companion for him, in the hopes it might lift him out of his depression.
Will’s everything Lou is not: (understandably) bitter, withdrawn, and rude. Lou, with her colourful and zany outfits, and chirpy attitude, merely irritates Will and she spends her days at the castle (yes, he lives in a castle) passing the time by reading and learning about Will’s condition. But it’s only so long before Lou’s infectious sunny disposition breaks through Will’s icy demeanour and the two become friends.
Lou discovers Will has given his parents an ultimatum: he’ll delay his plans for euthanasia by six months to see whether they can convince him that life is worth living. And, as she spends more time with Will, Lou tries to show him he can still experience the adventures and beauty the world can offer. She takes him for garden walks, to a horse race (a failure), a classical concert (a success), and is his date to the wedding of his best friend and ex-girlfriend (who dumped him after the accident). The fun they have deepens their connection, much to the chagrin of Lou’s fitness-obsessed boyfriend, Patrick (Matthew Lewis).
Initially, the story is a difficult by-in, skirting over the emotional maelstrom that characterises the controversial issue of disability and euthanasia. Lou’s permanent smile, wide-eyed optimism, and vivacious zest for life are annoying in the same way a ‘morning person’ is to someone who doesn’t want to greet the sunshine immediately after waking up. Emilia Clarke shows she has versatility. Lou is the antithesis of the often stoic Game of Thrones queen, Daenerys Targaryen. Clarke turns Lou’s quirkiness into a contagious cheeriness as the film progresses, making the story sweet to watch, and yes, difficult to stop a bout of lumpy throat. “You make me happy,” Lou tells Will. “Even when you’re awful, I would rather be with you – even the you that you seem to think is diminished – than with anyone else in the world.” See? Watery eyes may follow.
Me Before You doesn’t have the same heartfelt humour that makes films like The Fault in Our Stars such memorable and worthy tearjerkers with gender cross-appeal. If there’s any doubt that the target audience for the former is overwhelmingly female, Lou’s choice of reading material – the most chick-lit of chick-lit novels, Marian Keyes’ Sushi for Beginners – makes this abundantly clear. Me Before You will probably be well-liked, if forgettable.
Director: Thea Sharrock
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Matthew Lewis
Rating: 3 out of 5
SA release date: 08 July 2016