There’s no question the sole purpose of Me Before You is to make you cry–just like horror movies freak you out, documentaries educate you, and Adam Sandler movies make you cringe. There’s no fighting it, and there shouldn’t be any surprise.
So bring your Kleenex. Period.
But the success of Me Before You (and other similarly well-done movies) is that it doesn’t make you cry by trying too hard or, worse yet, being manipulative. There’s a good story here, and it’s presented by great actors with solid chemistry. If any of those pieces had been missing, well… it might have made you cringe.
Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a goofy twenty-something looking for work in a small English town. The only job she’s qualified for (and not even then, really) is to serve as a companion for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), an obnoxious, rich, young gent who became a quadriplegic two years earlier when he was hit by a motorcycle. Since that time, he’s just been stewing in his family’s castle overlooking the town.
When Clark arrives, the oil-and-water friction is ramped up to eleven; he doesn’t want her there, and she’s ready to give up after the first day. She has to stick it out, though, since her father is unemployed and the Traynors’ paycheck is more than generous.
Eventually (naturally) Will begins to de-jerk, and even begins to tolerate Clark’s presence–allowing the actors to throw the chemistry into overdrive and make Me Before You a highly watchable (and sniffle-worthy) success.
In the six seasons that Clarke has portrayed Daenerys Targaryen (Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, First of Her Name, etc. etc…) on Game of Thrones, the character has emerged as one of the true bad-ass women on television. In Me Before You she does a complete 180; Lou Clark is as cute and lovable as Dany is vicious and fierce. It’s a winning performance by Clarke, made even more noteworthy when contrasted against her Game of Thrones work. Claflin, similarly, leaves his work as Finnick in the Hunger Games series far behind him. He makes Will Traynor a complex and emotional man, and Me Before You is clearly better for it.
First-time director Thea Sharrock (TV’s Call the Midwife) seems to still be getting her feature film legs underneath her, but her debut works well enough. There are times that she can’t quite hide the fact that she’s condensing a decent-sized novel into a two-hour film, but there are also plenty of subtle moments that are staged perfectly, including a wedding that Clark and Traynor attend together (complete with a brilliant cameo).
Likewise, the screenplay by Jojo Moyes (from her novel) suffers somewhat from having to fit onto a movie screen, and things start sliding into cheesy melodrama toward the end, but the base story remains intact, and it’s a good one.
Much is being made of the way quadriplegia is portrayed (and by whom) in the movie, along with the big third-act reveal and its ramification on the disabled community. I’ll confess that I have no idea, no context, and no way of judging any of that. What I do know is that Me Before You tells a heartfelt story with complex characters, and that to my untrained eye it seems very believable and true. And yes, sniffle-worthy.