At some point, we’ve all suffered through the cinematic death march of Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Based off the trailers, Me Before You appeared to be the first cousin of a Sparks adaptation. Then something happens. Something becomes kind of tolerable and, dare I say, even affecting?
That’s faint praise for the latest tragic love tear-jerker, whose entire trajectory is preordained before the opening credits even roll. Me Before You is a dog whistle for movie goers looking to let out a good cry. (Not me! I’m a jaded critic!). Set to the tune of weeps and wails, Me Before You is decorated with the trappings of the latest Movie of the Week but – much to my surprise – is kind of enjoyable.
Sparks’ name is nowhere in sight for the latest lovers-in-peril outing, which he has made an empire on. The movie is adapted from the popular novel by Jojo Moyes, who also wrote the screenplay. I did not read Moyes’ novel beforehand but there is a delicate touch to her screenplay, which allows her to make sure her work is adapted with the vision she already created. (My friend, who joined me for the film and read to book, did mention some changes made from book to screen).
Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke stars as Louisa Clark, a bumbling but good-spirited young woman living in a small town with her family. They have seemingly fallen on hard times and everyone must pull their weight to bring money in for support. Louisa – or Lou – has floated from job-to-job and is recently let go from her waitress gig at a cafe. With the help of a recruiter, Lou lands a job as a caretaker for a disabled man.
Lou meets with Camilia Traynor (Janet McTeer), in her gorgeous castle she calles home. She briefly interviews Lou, who would be taking care of her son, Will (Sam Claflin). Lou has no experience in the field but is offered the job of being in charge of someone’s day-to-day life because that’s how movies work.
Will is paralyzed from the neck down after being struck by a motorcycle. He’s a man who once had it all – money, babes, a great job – and in the matter of moments has it taken way from him. As one could imagine, he’s quite bitter. Maybe a little off-putting even. Lou is determined to cut through his icy exterior and maybe show him there is still a life for him to live, despite his severe limitations.
You’ve either read the book or have seen a movie of the same ilk, so you know how Me Before You will play out. It’s certainly a predictable outing but not as machine-produced and overly calculated as post-The Notebook era Sparks adaptations (I will never tire of writing about how bad Sparks is).
But there’s something different to this movie. We have two characters we can invest in and feel fully fleshed out, not just figures waiting around for tragedy to strike. Me Before You isn’t a great film and probably isn’t even a very good one, but it is massively elevated by Clarke. Her characterization of Lou could have easily been annoying because she is so peppy but Clark brings such wide-eyed charm to the role. Claflin brings nuance to Will, who is more than just bitter. He’s hungry to get up and ski again, go for a run or explore the world.
First-time director Thea Sharrock creates a sunny atmosphere, along with cinematographer Remi Adefarasin, which gives Me Before You a glossy and easy-to-watch look about it. She creates a sugary texture to the syrupy material, making you forget that something bad has to happen before the movie is over. (This isn’t a spoiler, it’s part of the romantic melodrama rules).
Me Before You is a prime example of how two leads can turn a movie around. Clarke and Claflin have such a charming chemistry and back-and-forth with one another. We care about these people. I cared about these people. Whew. That’s a surprising sentence to type.
6 out of 10