Fans of JoJo Moye’s 2012 bestseller Me Before You will likely be in heaven over her screenplay adaptation of the book, which stays faithful to the initial idea of a love story with an edgy message about the right to die. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), there could be controversy — as there was with the book — generated by quadriplegic groups who resist the idea that life might not be worth living in that condition despite possible evidence to the contrary.
In the case of Me Before You, an exceptionally moving and unusual love story of sorts, the viewer will have to decide if Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), gravely injured after being run down by a motorcycle and in need of 24/7 care, should end his life even as he appears he still has much to live for, including a new relationship with perky and enthusiastic caregiver Lou (Emilia Clarke). She is devastated to learn that he made a pact with his parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance) that he would give it just six more months to live in a condition that finds him sometimes having severe near-death attacks and makes him permanently depend on others. The right to die becomes an underlying theme but doesn’t overwhelm a movie that falls right into the box of classic weepies like Love Story and most recently The Fault in Our Stars, in which at least one person in the relationship is virtually doomed.
The hot-button issue gives Me Before You a little more edge and substance that the norm in this romance-tragedy genre, but what makes it work as well as it does are the actors, who make you believe. Clarke, known as Daenerys Targaryen, Khaleesi of the Dothaki Mother of Dragons (say that five times fast) in Game of Thrones, has a wildly different kind of role here as the endlessly cheerful and optimistic young woman hired on a six-month contract essentially to be a companion for Will, who also relies on a physical therapist (Stephen Peacocke) for the heavier lifting. There obviously is no intention of romance initially, as she tries to get Will to warm up to her sunny ways, but things slowly change, especially since her own boyfriend is a bit of a dud.
Will represents someone very intelligent and handsome who she can help. Claflin (The Hunger Games), though, is the best reason to see the film, giving a smart and tricky performance as a once-promising young man struck down in his prime and now trapped in his body. He makes this a movie where the tears are earned and the sentimentality is never laid on too thick. This pair is great together.
Nevertheless I would not be surprised to see audiences taking sides and sparking real conversation after seeing Me Before You, an unusual occurrence for a film like this. It is easy to look at Will and think he still has a whole life ahead of him, with a keen intelligence that seems a shame to throw away. On the other hand, what is the quality of life when you have to live like he does? Me Before You is a cut above for making this romantic movie one with food for thought.
Warner Bros opens the New Line Cinema and MGM production today. It was produced by Alison Owen and Karen Rosenfelt with direction from Thea Sharrock, a well-known stage director here switching comfortably to film. There is no question the key production team of women has brought a nice touch to the proceedings that should qualify this as perfect counterprogramming to the likes of yet another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flick and next week’s Warcraft. It also might be one that proves that true female box office power still exists with the right material.
Do you plan to see Me Before You? Let us know what you think.