Me Before You (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
26Jun/170

Me Before You (2016)

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Louisa Clark, newly unemployed, answers an ad requesting companionship for Will Traynor.  Will is bitter about life after an accident paralyzed most of his body from the chest down.  Through Lou's optimism, Will may find a new lease on life, or is set to leave on his own terms.  Thea Sharrock directs Me Before You, with the screenplay written by Jojo Moyes, and stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.

Me Before You has one thing going for it over the similarly awful The Theory of Everything.  Both share wheelchair-bound protagonists dealing with their differently-abled bodies in a white land of splendor and luxury.  At least Me Before You has the storytelling sense to make the romance between Lou (Emilia Clarke) and Will (Sam Claflin) a total fantasy complete with pristine photography.  Heck, Me Before You even has many scenes within a literal castle to really hammer home the fairytale vibe.

Aesthetics aside, Me Before You is reprehensible in its ethical stance that it's better to die as you wish than live in luxury with a wheelchair.  That's "the twist" and if any of you readers are upset at that then, well, you're reading the wrong reviewer.  There is no way to write about Me Before You without taking into consideration Will's suicide at the end, which puts the fairytale that comes before in a cruel light.  All the glitz, glamour, orchestral swelling, pop-laden, and clearly shot soft romance means little to the manipulative ass that is Will.

At least Will's dressed in black when we meet him so that his villain role is easily communicated.

Me Before You is the brightly lit dark underbelly of those aspirational porn articles - the kind where folks on crutches or wheelchairs "overcome" their differently-abled bodies and walk or run a 5k or whatever gets people to go, "Awwwwww."  Aside from treating the differently-abled as pets, those pieces share Me Before You's refusal to adjust the lens of what a good life is to those folks in wheelchairs, on crutches, and so on.  Life in a wheelchair, no matter how rich you are nor how many gorgeous people stumble into your life, is less preferential than whatever lies beyond our mortal shells.

The suicide twist turns every romantic possibility of the preceding hour and a half into venom.  Every bright spot in the garden or bonding moment over music is another way for Will to snare Lou in an emotional vise.  This is a genuine shame because some of those moments worked in spite of my foreknowledge of what was to come.  The scene where Lou sits in Will's lap while director Thea Sharrock shows their dance at Will's level in an unbroken steadicam shot is delightful because it approaches Will's body at his level instead of those of us walking around.

Clarke and Claflin have such good chemistry together despite their respective characters being written with the subtlety of a circus.  Lou is all garish colors and high-energy "Live life to its fullest" philosophy that Clarke embodies so deeply I thought her eyebrows would rocket off her head in one of many moments where she tries to convince Will to do anything.  Will is the living embodiment of Generation X's latter days in the '90s where over-the-top physicality sat uncomfortably next to brooding corporate-sponsored grunge.  Neither character works on their own, but together their cartoonish qualities transcends their simplistic characterization with Lou and Will genuinely bringing out the best in one another.

If Lou and Will are the circus, the music is the explosion rocketing the tent off its grounding spikes.  I admire Craig Armstrong's taste with the inclusion of one of my personal favorites, "NEW COKE" by the band HEALTH (it's no "STONEFIST" or "L.A. LOOKS" but I ain't too picky when it comes to HEALTH), but it's an odd fit next to the Top 40 stylings of Imagine Dragons and Ed Sheeran (HEALTH is a better fit with Lady Gaga anyway).  The weird part of my experience was how much it worked in conjunction with Clarke/Claflin's charisma and the shiny photography.  I was close to tears at some of the overwhelmingly emotional montage moments that cheesily show Lou in three columns of frantic research trying to figure out what she can do with Will.

Jenna Coleman's (right) grounded performance is a standout, the only one of its kind in Me Before You, and still buys into Will's bullshit.

Those bits of emotional success are exactly why Me Before You is so vile.  The intellectual part of my brain screaming at me not to give in to the thinly-veiled case for suicide.  In spite of the Lou's optimism, the obvious positive effect she's having on Will, and an existence that will never want for material needs - Me Before You comes down to arguing that suicide is preferable to living a life you don't want.

I'm sure a good movie could be made about the complicated decision in having respect for someone's choice to live or die as they wish.  This is not that movie.  Me Before You is a sunny vacation where every positive event is revealed to be Will adding a bit more poison to the life he insists Lou should lead once he's gone.  It's a vile lie, arguing against a life people would kill for no matter their physical capabilities, ending with an entitled man telling a woman how she should live.  Everyone tries their hardest, and I can't deny the emotional success, but it's to a purpose so morally against what I am.

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Me Before You (2016)

Directed by Thea Sharrock.
Screenplay written by Jojo Moyes.
Starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin.

Posted by Andrew

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