Movie Review: Me Before You (2016)
Me Before You (2016)
Director: Thea Sharrock
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer
Synopsis: A carefree young girl becomes a carer to an embittered young quadriplegic.
It’s virtually impossible for an able-bodied person to imagine the pain and mental anguish endured by a once-active person who suddenly finds themselves trapped in a body that refuses to do their bidding, but that’s the task writer Jojo Moyes takes on with Me Before You, the screen adaptation of her best-selling novel. But while Moyes has a fair, if somewhat lightweight, stab at the emotional angst of such a condition, she completely sidesteps the harsh day-to-day realities, and, by doing so, unforgivably trivialises what could have been a deeply moving experience.
The tragically romantic quadriplegic at the centre of Moyes’ story is Will Traynor (Sam Claflin – Snow White and the Huntsman, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), a handsome, athletic young man with a swish city centre pad and sexy blonde girlfriend whose enviable lifestyle is irrevocably changed when he’s mown down by a motorbike. Unable to face the terrible prospect of countless years trapped within a now-useless body, Will decides he would rather undergo an accompanied suicide with Dignitas, and the only thing that has prevented him from doing so is the promise he made to his parents that he would wait six months before going ahead with his plan.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that Will enjoys the privileges of wealth of which most people can only dream. His parents live in a stately home and probably earn more before breakfast than most people do in a year. While all this wealth doesn’t necessarily soften the blow for Will, it does allow Ms Moyes a certain amount of artistic licence which would not be available to her if he was living on a council estate in Hackney. Anyway, Into Will’s life bounds elfin-like Louise Clark (an appealing Emilia Clarke – Dom Hemingway), a slightly dizzy girl with an eccentric taste in clothes and a total lack of purpose in her life, who’s been employed by Will’s mother in the hope that having a pretty young carer around might revive her son’s taste for life. Louise’s big heart quickly overcomes Will’s initial reticence and a warm friendship, full of sidelong glances and secret smiles, develops. So, when she learns of Will’s plans to end his life, she determines to prove to him that he still has much to live for, despite his physical disabilities.
While the target audience will no doubt be puffy-eyed sniffling wrecks by the time the end credits roll, many others will question the cynicism with which the film exploits a person’s devastating physical disability for a plot device. To claim, as some have done, that Me Before You sends out the message that all quadriplegics and similarly afflicted individuals should purchase a one-way ticket to Switzerland is both disingenuous and moronic, but there’s no denying that Moyes makes all the easy choices when telling her story, and that in doing so she trivialises Will’s condition to the point where paralysis from the neck down starts to come across as a minor inconvenience. Clarke and Claflin manfully do their best with the lightweight treatment, but are undone by the lack of substance beneath the tragi-romantic trappings.
(Reviewed 16th July 2016)