Many times in life, we often let our hearts overrule our minds. Such is the case with Thea Sharrock’s Me Before You, a slick piece of treacle that manages to charm as it flirts with insulting the audience’s intelligence throughout. However, as with every successful love story, the couple in question is not only likeable but sympathetic as well, and we can’t help but hope they find a modicum of happiness amidst the numerous difficulties they face.
Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke, a very long way from Game of Thrones) is the very personification of hope. Though she may not be thrilled that at 26 she still lives at home and has to help support her family and that her boyfriend (Matthew Lewis) is a self-absorbed trainer, she always has a smile on her face as bright as a solar flare. However, she’s knocked back on her heels a bit when she loses her job at a bakery and there appears to be no local employment in sight. But fate – or the heavy-handed machinations of author/screenwriter Jojo Moyes – has other plans for her, as a dream job falls right into her lap. Stephen and Camilla Traynor (Charles Dance and Janet McTeer), who have more money than they know what to do with and have the estate to prove it, are looking for a caretaker for their son Will (Sam Claflin). Seems he was recently in an accident that’s left him paralyzed from the waist down. That he’s taken his anger out on three other caretakers and sent them packing isn’t much of a surprise. Given the nature of the film, the fact that Will is also devastatingly handsome and witty isn’t a shocker either.
Nothing more than an update of Beauty and the Beast, Sharrock and Moyes make no bones about what they’re doing and seem to be daring the audience not to embrace the movie, as their intent is so obvious. As soon as Lou walks into Will’s room in one of her many dazzling bright yet stylish outfits, we know that her unbridled optimism will wear away at his Gloomy Gus act until we see the kind prince, oops, sorry, man that lies beneath. It’s a stacked deck from the start, yet one can’t be too critical of the plot’s structure as this is exactly what fans of these sorts of films expect … except perhaps for the third act twist that brings the tale crashing to earth with a dose of reality that I found welcoming and a bit daring.
What’s also unexpected is the way in which Clarke and Claflin are able to find the humanity within the stock characters they’ve been saddled with. It isn’t easy playing someone as eternally gleeful as Lou, but Clarke brings a dose of subtle practicality and common sense that prevents the character from looking foolish. Far better here than in last year’s Terminator sequel in which she was woefully miscast, the actress skillfully brings a sense of realism to a role that easily could have come off as trite. Her co-star manages to duplicate her approach to great effect as Claflin’s natural charm shines through his curmudgeon act, but not before he gives Traynor’s sense of anger and disappointment a voice that rings true.
To their credit, Sharrock and Moyes stick to their guns where the ending of the film is concerned, one I thought they’d lack the nerve to follow through with. It, as well as the fine work from Clarke and Claflin, help provide Me Before You with a sense of sincerity I didn’t think it was capable of, let alone attempt.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.