Me Before You Movie Review: A Melodramatic Romance and Questionable Portrayal of Disability

Jojo Moyes' novel gives audiences a generic portrait of disability couched in a formulaic melodrama.
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A common technique in classic film of the 1930s-1950s was disabling, or other means of eliciting tears, one half of a romantic couple with the subsequent melodrama inspiring tears and pity in equal measure. Just how would the two lovers survive in such a cruel world? This weekend's adaptation of Jojo Moyes' novel, Me Before You, seeks to tap in to the melodrama of old, but in 2016 it's far too generic and unpleasant. 

After losing her job, Louisa "Lou" Clark (Emilia Clarke) takes a chance at being the caretaker to a wealthy disabled man named Will (Sam Claflin). Will is difficult, but Lou is determined to reach him, sparking love in the process.

As someone who is disabled Me Before You hits on all the head-shaking stereotypes common to the "disabled melodrama." Will once lived a life of awesome douchebaggery, only to be cursed with life in a wheelchair after a rouge motorbike paralyzes him. Only living in the chair for two years hasn't changed his outlook on things, despite the fact he owns a castle, lives in a magnificent house, and doesn't worrry about any of the problems common to most disabled people. (You don't see Will Traynor wondering if a job is a worth losing his disability check over!) 

But though it is about this couple transcending Will's disability in order to fall in love, Me Before You is more a search for identity (and showcase) for Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke. Clarke's Lou is like Alice through the crippled glass, so to speak, entering the Traynors' high class world with all the wonderment of someone who, in spite of dressing like a nine-year-old version of Emilia Clarke, has had serious struggles. Once again, this movie reiterates how hard everyone's life is, but they all seem to have unlimited resources, decent housing, and, in Lou's case, an abundance of fabrice to make clothes. Once Lou and Will meet, it becomes a formulaic race to the bottom as the two segue from mutual disdain to tentative romance. 

Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin aren't at fault for the film's flaws - that's all laid at the feet of author/screenwriter Jojo Moyes. Clarke is earnest and charming, giving us a character far different than her role on Thrones. Insults and praise swirl a bit too much around Lou's wardrobe at times, but Clarke never loses the big grin on her face. Claflin has the harder role, and I say that with all the sarcasm one can convey online, playing a drop-dead gorgeous wealthy disabled man. The film has to remind the audience of how desirable Will is by having him lounge in bed with gorgeous women, do extreme sports (pre-injury, obviously), and other ways of showing off his body. Outside of being dry and rude, Claflin is perfectly fine, but the film is reliant on the audience loving him purely for his good looks. 

The supporting cast includes the always reliable Janet McTeer as Will's mother and Charles Dance (another GOT alum) as his dad. Both are given black and white character traits but they work well. Jenna Louise Coleman of Doctor Who fame pops up in about two scenes as Lou's sister - her character, more than the others, suffered the biggest hack/slash from book to screen. And let's give a shoutout to Harry Potter alum, Matthew Lewis, playing Lou's broadly drawn boyfriend.

Me Before You is wishfulfillment for the able-bodied, as well as a trite overview of a tragic relationship. The characters are painted in various shades of gray, none of them coming close to the brightly painted effervescence of Clarke herself. There are countless better films that started the path Me Before You purely rehashes.

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