UK Release Date: 3rd June 2016
Runtime: 110 minutes
Director: Thea Sharrock
Writer: Jojo Moyes
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Steve Peacocke, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Jenna Coleman, Matthew Lewis, Brendan Coyle
Synopsis: An excitable young woman from a small town in England forms an unlikely bond with a misanthropic quadriplegic man, when she takes up a job as his carer.
Controversy dogged the otherwise innocuous-looking romantic drama Me Before You prior to its cinematic release. Protesters picketed the premiere over the film’s , and its source novel, depiction of a plotline in which a disabled man contemplates assisted suicide. Many had written the film off as an offensive, trashy tale before they even saw a frame of Thea Sharrock‘s movie, adapted by Jojo Moyes from her own original book. Thankfully, Me Before You is a sensitive and often very funny tale that focuses not on big issues, but on the lives and emotions of its characters.
Lou (Emilia Clarke) loses her job at a bakery and is forced to look for something quickly in order to support her family. She replies to an advert from wealthy couple Camilla (Janet McTeer) and Steven Traynor (Charles Dance). Their son, Will (Sam Claflin), was a city high-flyer before a crash with a motorbike left him paralysed and confined to a wheelchair. Lou gets a job as Will’s carer, assisting his nurse Nathan (Steve Peacocke) with day-to-day help. Will is initially resistant to Lou’s upbeat personality, but they eventually bond, throwing up questions about Will’s future.
Me Before You benefits from a feel of quaint Britishness, similar to that which accompanied 2014’s loveable romcom Love, Rosie. This shares that film’s picture postcard Britannia and rather polite approach to detailing the tentative steps of young love. There’s also a charmingly acerbic British sense of humour running through both films, with neither script inclined to shy away from a barbed punchline or spiky remark. There are gags about disability in Me Before You that cut close to the bone, but provide a real sense of how these characters would deal with their predicament by making each other laugh.
This film also shares something else with Love, Rosie – an extraordinary central performance from Sam Claflin. His film choices outside of the behemoth Hunger Games franchise have showcased great versatility and he is formidable once again in Me Before You. He gives Will the same sense of witheringly sarcastic privilege that made his Alistair Ryle such a memorably detestable piece of shit in The Riot Club. It’s incredibly tough to like Will in the early stages, ensuring that the audience does not file the character away under heroically brave disabled people, who are something of a stereotype in cinema. When Claflin is able to deepen Will later on as his facade drops, the results are emotionally potent thanks to Claflin’s unique, deadpan charisma.
In stark opposition to Claflin’s deadpan is Emilia Clarke, who is a long way from Daenerys Targaryen as the quaint, eternally optimistic Lou. Her idealism provides a counterpoint to Will’s defeatist attitude and their clashing points of view create much of the film’s early comedy, with Clarke portraying Lou’s desperation to break down Will’s personal walls. She is immediately likeable throughout the film and does a tremendous job of helping the audience to warm to Will, even as Claflin maintains his emotionally repressed portrayal. Unfortunately, many of the supporting characters serve as little more than infuriating archetypes, from Jenna Coleman‘s supportive sister to Matthew Lewis‘ arrogant arsehole boyfriend.
Despite what the controversy might have you believe, Me Before You is absolutely not a film about the assisted dying debate or about disabled issues. It is simply a story of two young people and their troubled romance. This is a film that features assisted dying as a storyline, without revolving around it. Some would argue that using such weighty subject matter as a mere aspect of a light-hearted romance is troubling, and they have a point. But when a film has a big a heart as Me Before You, it’s really tough to get all that upset.
Pop or Poop?
Controversy aside, Me Before You is an inoffensive romance story that has a rich vein of emotional impact running right through its considerable heart.
The performances from Claflin and Clarke are superb and the British settings are evocative, but the supporting cast fades into the background from the first moment. It’s all as light as a sponge cake from an issues perspective, but as fun as a double chocolate brownie with sprinkles.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.