Me Before You breaks the conventions and stereotypes of the typical romantic drama and it serves as a poke in the eye to the Hallmark Channel’s 24/7 rehashing of the gentrified Harlequin tropes.
PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material
There’s no denying the target audience for this one skews female, as an advance screening — a packed house of around 220 souls — attests. There were maybe 15 dudes (soundly less than 10%) proudly representing the male population, either out of a love for girlfriend or love of film.
The distribution of tissues — packaged in boxes neatly branded with Me Before You poster art and the Kleenex logo — was a bit of a stretch. Sure, it’s supposed to be a tear-jerker, a weepy. But, really, there’s only one scene — toward the end — which veers into teary-eyed territory and the handling of the situation is so light and swift as to be painless. It’s almost as if the set-up for tears is itself beside the point.
And it very well might be.
The English Patient
That set-up toys with the “meet cute” romantic conventions.
He’s a former playboy and bon vivant who became quadriplegic following a motorcycle accident 2 years earlier. He is William Traynor (Sam Claflin, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides).
She’s a free-spirited girl with a questionable fashion sense. Full of energy and personable, but she’s also perfectly content to live with her parents and support her nuclear family (her father is unemployed) in her hometown. She is Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke, Dom Hemingway).
After Louisa’s sent to the dole queue following the closure of the café that’s been her bread and butter for 6 years (and itself a job she acquired on a dare — to get a job within 24 hours), she’s best described as lacking in skills and virtually unemployable. It’s her personality and pleasant disposition that warrants a try as William’s companion and light caregiver. The Traynor family’s blown through several; William’s a handful with his temperament and sarcastic disposition.
Given he’s also a bit of a fatalist, he’s not to be left alone for more than 15 minutes.
Following the standard trajectory of these things, their relationship is choppy at first. But soon enough William sees a little something in Louisa worth latching onto. They start to teach each other about stuff.
He, for one thing, is mortified that Louisa, at the ripe age of 26, has never seen a movie with subtitles. Movies, it turns out, are a common ground. They both have a love for E.T. and James Bond. And William, as culturally stuffy as he might seem to be, has a soft spot for that ultimate man flick, Armageddon.
The unlikely pair start to venture out into town, helping ease William back into some sort of high society life. As it happens, his girlfriend at the time of his accident is now engaged to his best friend. And Louisa’s boyfriend is a self-absorbed health nut and emotional lightweight. How, exactly does a couple get together when he’s a fitness freak and she can barely stand running or biking? Well, it makes for an easy — lazy — source of (comical) conflict.
The tears come into play when it’s revealed William has set a 6-month timeline to his own end. A trip to Switzerland is planned. Louisa interprets that as 6 months to change his mind.
There are a couple interesting things about this.
One is the interpretation of William’s motivations. Is he totally selfish? (The title is Me Before You, after all. Is it fair for him to want to die given his inability to enjoy the life he used to live?
Interesting questions. But are they relevant? Maybe not.
The other enticing point lies in the promotional hashtag for Me Before You. It’s #LiveBoldly.
From one point of view, William’s choice is bold. He’s presented as being a really good guy facing an unpleasant future; he’s not a stereotypical Beast to Louisa’s Belle. He’s wealthy, but he has/had heart. He’s thoughtful in his gift-giving. He’s cultured.
The true point of “Live Boldly” lies in the advice William extends to Louisa.
In many respects, he’s upholding longstanding Mattopian ideals and values. His advice to Louisa? Go out and see the world, even if it means going out on your own; step outside the comfort zone and absorb life’s experiences. That’s this writer’s modus operandi. Even Afar magazine proclaimed “The New Rule of Travel: Go Solo” in its March/April 2016 issue. And there’s Ralph Waldo Emerson’s take: “How much of human life is lost in waiting?”
Outside the Lines
It’s a pleasant surprise to be able to take Me Before You as more of a story of self-actualization than romance. This is almost an anti-romance; Lousia helps ease the blow of his ex-girlfriend’s wedding by fantasizing about how miserable the couple’s lives will ultimately become. The real romance here is with life itself. And it’s pretty well done, managing to go deeper than the bumper sticker philosophy of light fare such as Eat Pray Love.
For making this endeavor work as well as it does, credit goes to director Thea Sharrock, who has Shakespearean roots that include directing Henry V in the Hollow Crown series and an adaptation of As You Like It. She’s working with a screenplay by the novel’s author, Jojo Moyes (she also wrote a follow-up novel, After You, which seems destined as a movie sequel).
But the real treat here is watching Emilia Clarke. She’s been able to move outside of the overwhelming success of Game of Thrones and has made some interesting choices. This is quite a change of pace; she’s not the ultra-fit, buff Sarah Connor of Terminator Genisys. She’s the direct opposite. And Clarke displays a knack for comedy while wearing crazy outfits of questionable taste, even as she tries to warm the heart of a good guy in a bad spot.