FILM REVIEW – ME BEFORE YOU. With Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Stephen Peacocke. Written by Jojo Moyes. Directed by Thea Sharrock. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material. 104 minutes.
When it comes to film genres, some are treated with great respect: gangster movies, westerns, film noir, even classic horror. There are important and entertaining films in these genres, and major filmmakers have worked in all of them. What they have in common is that they are male-dominated: the stories are about men and are targeted at predominantly male audiences.
There’s nothing wrong with that, except that–with the possible exception of science fiction movies–no genre has been treated with more disrespect than the so-called “woman’s picture.” You can even hear it in the way the genre is defined as “weepies” or “three-hanky” movies. See, these are stories that play on emotions. The great films and filmmakers who tugged at the heartstrings don’t get major retrospectives or authoritative studies.
That’s changed somewhat over the years, but it will be interesting to see how ME BEFORE YOU is received by audiences. The story, adapted by Jojo Moyes from her best-selling novel, is somewhat implausible… but when has that ever stopped Hollywood? Lou (Emilia Clarke) needs a job to help her small family in England. She’s perky and optimistic, given to wearing flamboyant clothes, and doesn’t have a lot of skills. After a botched interview, she is surprisingly hired to be a caretaker for Will (Sam Claflin).
Will was a young man on the rise when an accident left him with a spinal cord injury. He’s now a quadriplegic, barely able to move a couple of fingers to propel his wheelchair. He’s bitter about the life that was taken from him, and sees no point in going on. Throwing these two characters together may see convenient, but it’s no more or less contrived than Ilsa showing up at Rick’s Café Americain or Luke Skywalker discovering R2-D2 and C-3PO. It sets the plot in motion.
Naturally, she is disillusioned by his coldness and brooding and, just as naturally, her indomitable sprightliness begins to win him over. Where can this relationship go? You can like the choices the characters make or not, and you can see the plot points from countless of novels and movies recycled here, including giving Lou a clueless boyfriend (Matthew Lewis) who is there to provide a contrast with Will. What cannot be denied is that Clarke (perhaps best known as the “Mother of Dragons” on “Game of Thrones”) and Claflin bring these characters to life and win us over.
As in any romantic story there is an exchange, she melts his heart while he broadens her horizons. They become better people for having become involved with each other, but because this is a “weepie,” we know it’s not going to end well. Theater and television director Thea Sharrock, making her feature debut here, focuses on the small moments, whether it’s the indignity of Will’s wheelchair being caught in the mud to Lou’s giddiness at receiving the perfect birthday present.
“Me Before You” has echoes of everything from “Jane Eyre” to “Whose Life Is it Anyway?” so it can hardly be said to be breaking new ground. Yet thanks to its two leads, it is a film that should score with its intended audience even if it doesn’t get much respect.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.