Despite the bright colours and sheer optimism presented in the trailer, Me Before You is deceptively bleak. Jojo Moyes adapts her best-selling novel for the screen, with her two romantic leads taking the form of Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, two stars better known for their work in the epic series Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games Franchise rather than small-scale love stories.
In search of any immediate work to support her family, Lou Clarke (Clarke) snaps up the opportunity to work as a carer/companion for Will Traynor (Claflin), a recent quadriplegic. With her sunny outlook and off-beat dress sense, Lou is the first burst of real life Will has encountered since his debilitating accident, though he has no interest in making Lou’s job easy. Lou is motivated by a desire to help others, a selfless trait that has also kept her from moving away from the small English village in which the characters reside. As Will and Lou inevitably grow closer, Will encourages Lou to “live boldly,” while Lou tries to get Will to follow his own advice, regardless of his physical disability. There is an easy chemistry between Clarke and Claflin that make their scenes enjoyable to watch, even when the film occasionally threatens to lapse too far into sentimentality.
Me Before You is filled with numerous familiar faces, including fellow Games of Thrones alum Charles Dance as Will’s father, former Home And Away heartthrob Stephen Peacocke, and Matthew Lewis, better known to many as Neville Longbottom. The supporting cast are given brief moments to shine, often when advocating for or against Will’s right to choose the outcome of his life. Lewis also provides the bulk of the film’s humour as Lou’s clueless, fitness-obsessed boyfriend.
But it is Claflin and Clarke that are truly the focus here. Clarke infuses her character with such a warm and cheerful disposition that it is impossible not to enjoy every moment of her performance. Will’s pessimistic approach to life can be difficult to swallow at times, but Claflin is at his best when he is playing against Clarke’s bumbling sweetness.
Me Before You has recently received significant backlash from disabled activists who are offended by the dreary depiction of Traynor, dubbing the film a “disability snuff movie.” The film’s release has resulted in several protests in London, New York, Perth and Melbourne. Interestingly, this is the first instance of backlash since the book’s release in 2012. Director Thea Sharrock attests that the message at the heart of her feature directorial debut is to live life as fully as possible. However, given how the events unfold in the film, it is easy to see how the overarching theme has been somewhat mishandled.
Though Me Before You may be flawed in its treatment of disability, the relationship between Lou and Will is sweet and honest, and one that isn’t as easily criticised. Against a backdrop of overly cheerful colour and the musical stylings of Ed Sheeran, this love story will still manage to squeeze a few tears out of viewers.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10