It’s only natural something as successful as The Fault in Our Stars would birth a few imitators, though I didn’t quite think we would still be seeing them two years down the line. I also didn’t think I would see one quite so brazen as Me Before You, which seeks to imitate everything down to the damned release date.
In the annals of young adult weepies about romance where death is involved, Me Before You is fine. Which, to be honest, is really more of an insult than that may read. The worst thing a film can be, especially one that wants to be a tearjerker, is just fine. Being just fine means I probably won’t remember too terribly much about this one come…let’s say Tuesday.
In this particular “watch this on your own so no one sees you cry” flick, Emilia Clarke plays Louisa Clark, a living set of expressive eyebrows. Louisa, after losing her job at a bakery (because this is a romance movie and that’s what people do), takes a job as a caregiver for a quadriplegic fellow. That quadriplegic fellow is Will Trainor (Sam Claflin), a living askance glance.
Will starts out initially hostile to Louisa, but warms up thanks to her charm and care and expressive clothing. However, Will still wants to commit assisted suicide end it all and Louisa takes it as her mission to turn around his perspective on life, even at the cost of her relationship to “Standard First Boyfriend in a Romantic Movie” Patrick.
Oh Matthew Lewis, you can lose all that weight. You’ll still be Neville.
By the way, I did just mention that one of the main characters wants to commit assisted suicide, and that’s a major part of the movie. At least it should be. The problem is that Me Before You seems to dance around that whole concept, hiding it behind euphemisms and trusting that the audience knows what that’s all about, letting Will give voice to his feelings on ending his own life but one time in the whole film.
And that’s a problem. In fact, it’s the film’s largest problem in that trying to be a big tearjerking crowd-saddener, Me Before You seems to have dodged anything that could have given it real heart or teeth or a punch as a film.
Part of the unique power and charm of The Fault in Our Stars seemed to be how it really did confront the darker part of its premise and used it to breathe a sense of urgency and life into the film. It integrated the fear of death and the tragedy of lost youth into the actual romance.
Which Me Before You just can’t seem to do. It’s missing that X-factor, that specific tragedy or sadness that could have seeped into the DNA of the film and made it feel like it really held an impact. Without it, the film seems to be holding back its cards, and by the time it hits a scene that integrates the thematics and the tragedy into the love our leads are developing, it’s just too little too late.
Without anything that gives Me Before You a hook into the heart, something to pull those tears out of the ducts, the most it can ever reach is just fine.
The leads are fine. Clarke and Claflin have enough chemistry and both are extremely expressive. But Clarke just doesn’t throw herself full-fledged into the role, always feeling like she’s holding something back despite being supposedly being unable to hide any of her emotions. And Claflin is forced to suppress his natural chemistry for so much of the movie that it gets hard to feel it when he’s finally allowed to be a decent guy.
The filmmaking is fine. It’s not particularly good, I mean it works. But there’s nothing that really moves you, outside of one particularly gorgeous pan as Clarke sits in Claflin’s spinning wheelchair that I wish had been more indicative of the effort in the film. Director Thea Sharrock seems to just be holding back letting the camera express what’s happening for too much of the film, unwilling to let anything just give itself over to passion.
Also, can we talk about the abundance of pop needle drops? When you put that many songs in, none of them really have an impact, besides their general sounds and associations likely giving a good emotional pull on the audience. Which further adds to my belief that these YA Romance films are the new melodramas, using the pop music to manipulate emotions just the same as any strong Sirkian strings.
The only thing that’s above fine is the story, which is the only reason any of this really works. Fundamentally, it’s an emotional and interesting story, but it never seems to be anything unique to the film. Jojo Moyes’ original book seems to hold most of that material anyway, and considering Moyes also wrote this film’s script, it’s fairly directly translated.
It’s really hard to have much to say about Me Before You. It’s forgettable. There’s a few okay moments and some decent acting and a strong story held together by the fact that Me Before You seems remarkably reluctant to actually go for broke and have a message or pull a string or feel something stronger than basic manipulation aided by an Ed Sheeran song.