‘Me Before You’ is billed as a film about a girl who falls in love with a boy who just happens to be quadriplegic and in the end, it is she who learns a life lesson. I wanted to cry, I wanted to revel in the melodramatic soap opera, I wanted it to be ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ 2.0, but instead, I sat through two hours of uncomfortable romance between two leads with little chemistry, who tried to deal with the finer points of living with a disability — something this movie is not well equipped to talk about.
Emilia Clark plays Lou, a small town girl with little ambition who is just trying to help out her family, including struggling sister Treena, (Jenna Coleman) who is trying to go back to school. After being fired from countless jobs, Lou gets hired as a caretaker for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a recently paralysed man. As you may have guessed they form a strong bond after Lou breaks through Will’s understandable depressed and cold exterior. Also, Will’s parents have an ulterior motive for hiring Lou, which puts a strange pressure on their romance. Eventually, common ground is found between the two leads, lovely dances are had, and there’s even a holiday to a tropical island. But if you think all the nice moments between the two characters are going to end with a ride off into the sunset, then you are in for the wrong movie.
While the plot may be straightforward, the movie’s handling of disability and the value of life is not. Will becomes quadriplegic after an accident that is not shown in the movie. He is constantly resentful of his new condition, which is sometimes deftly portrayed by Claflin. However, the scene where Will is first introduced really set off my uncomfortable view of the movie’s relationship to people living with disabilities. It’s meant to be a joke but comes off as a way of saying: “He’s disabled, but he’s not that disabled. So it’s funny!” It wasn’t funny and I believe everyone in the theatre and in the movie knew it, too.
The movie also tries to really say something about the value of life and putting destiny in your own hands, which is certainly an area worth discussing in another film, and could lead to a richer understanding of the characters. However, ‘Me Before You’ seems to have a surface level understanding of living with a disability, making the ending of the film rushed and possibly offensive to viewers. In fact, there has been a backlash from disabled rights groups regarding the movie’s ending. I can’t say that I totally disagree with them.
Other than the worrisome ending, the two leads don’t have a lot of chemistry to make a believable match of star-crossed lovers. When Will mentions that if it had not been for the accident they wouldn’t have met, my only thought was: “Oh that probably would have been best for both of them”. Not the reaction you want to have during a romantic scene.
I wanted to like this movie and I was prepared for the inherent cheesiness that comes with such a tragi-comedy. But frankly, the movie is plain boring, and no amount of serious discussions about quality of life or tepid romance will change that.