My Rating: 7 out of 10
Some movies are carried by deeply-layered or ultra-realistic plots and some movies are carried by interesting characters portrayed by great actors. Me Before You is definitely the latter sort of movie. A large part of why I wanted to see this film is because of Emilia Clarke’s role as the lead, Louisa Clarke. As usual, Emilia did not disappoint, but she wasn’t the only one. The chemistry between her and Sam Claflin, who played Will Traynor, was so wonderful and realistic. On top of the incredible acting, the film takes on a unique and controversial topic without shying away from reality, which I will discuss further below. For anyone who has yet to see Me Before You, I recommend seeing the film before reading the rest of my review as it takes some unexpected turns that are best left as a surprise.
On its face, Me Before You looks like a stereotypical romance film in which two characters with very different personalities come into each other’s lives and, despite all the odds, fall in love with one another. While that may be the barebones structure of the film, Me Before You is much more developed and realistic. Louisa (Lou) Clarke is an adorable, quirky girl in her mid-twenties trying to help provide for her family. After losing her job at a café, she finds employment as a caregiver for a wealthy quadriplegic man named Will Traynor. Will’s bitter personality and hatred of his disability initially causes tension between the two of them, but, overtime, Lou’s bubbly and caring personality breaks through his barriers. Things get more complicated when Lou finds out that Will’s parents have only brought her on to cheer up their son in an attempt to prevent him from euthanizing himself at Dignitas (a Swiss assisted suicide institute) in six months. Lou makes it her mission to convince Will that his life is still worth living by showing him all the amazing things he can still do.
One of the things that I loved most about Me Before You is that is doesn’t shy away from a controversial and sensitive topic such as assisted suicide, which is becoming a more frequent topic in the news. While there were certain clichés that the film is built upon, this topic was not one of them. The movie also didn’t take sides on Will’s decision to ultimately take his own life despite the happiness he was able to have with Lou. It merely presented us with a variety of perspectives on the topic and let the events make their course. Lou and the Traynors obviously did not want Will to make the choice he did, but Will truly felt that his life could never be as wonderful as it had been before his accident. The perspectives within Lou’s family also helped express the generational divide on this subject as shown by the conversation between Lou’s mother, who felt that Lou should have nothing to do with the trip to Switzerland since assisted suicide is “no better than murder”, and Lou’s sister, who mostly felt bad for Lou and disagreed with Will’s decision but admitted that the issue is complicated.
Though Will’s decision was heartbreaking and not the one that most people would have made, it also made sense for who he was. He loved the life he had before his accident and was someone that lived in the moment. His inability to appreciate the joy he could get out of life after his accident made him constantly long for the past and unable to look forward to the future until he couldn’t take it anymore. Despite the genuine love expressed by Lou and the Traynors, Will’s mind was made up and couldn’t be changed. Some people took the message of the film to be that one’s life can never be as good if they became paralyzed and forced to live in a wheelchair, but I believe the real message is that you cannot change who people are and, if you truly love them, you have to respect their decisions even when you completely disagree with them. Will’s decision is absolutely selfish and myopic, but he didn’t come to it overnight and, in the end, Lou and his parents accepted his choice and were there for him.
When I first saw the trailer for the film, I thought that the meaning of the title had something to do with individuals in a relationship putting the other’s needs before their own and vice versa. However, the real meaning of Me Before You is that the film focuses on the part of Lou’s life before she met Will and before he changed things forever for her. She became a different person because of her time with him. On top of this, Will didn’t change who he was, but was able to be his old self again thanks to his time with Lou. The film reminds us that our lives can be changed in the blink of an eye and we should always remember to live each day to the fullest. Lou had the right kind of personality since she already was so outgoing and full of life, but her commitments at home prevented her from being able to go out into the world. Will’s gift to her after his death allowed her to go experience things she never could have, which changed her life for the better.
While the ending was certainly tear inducing, it would be difficult to say that Me Before You was a sad or depressing movie. In fact, I would argue that it was mostly uplifting and funny with the exception of a few scenes. The chemistry between Lou and Will definitely played a big role in that. Emilia Clarke is able to convey such emotion with her facial expressions and genuine joyfulness, which made Lou feel like a real person instead of just a stereotypical movie character. While Lou was adorable and caring to the point of dropping nearly everything for Will, she did have issues of her own in terms of her family’s financial situation and her relationship with Patrick (played by Matthew Lewis from the Harry Potter films). This made her even more likable, but also made her more real and relatable, which is important for a genre that is usually known for its clichés. In this same way, all the characters were based off of archetypes, but the writer made them real by giving them genuine problems and concerns outside of the relationship at the center of the story.
Beyond giving Lou’s character more depth, I think Patrick was also an interesting foil for Will without becoming an outright rival. He wasn’t abusive, but he was more interested in what Lou meant to him than who she actually was and what she cared about. Will started out completely uninterested in Lou, but gradually grew to like her and genuinely became interested in her life. The scene where Patrick and Will both give Lou gifts for her birthday really shows this distinction between the two. I felt bad for Patrick to some extent since he wasn’t a bad guy, but he clearly was taking Lou for granted compared to Will who was extremely happy to have her in his life despite the fact that she could not change his mind and that he admits himself that he would not have been with a girl like her if it wasn’t for his accident. Like the other characters, Patrick was a real kind of guy, who is happy to have a girlfriend but doesn’t do much deep thinking about who she is as a person and what she cares about. With that said, I was glad that Lou didn’t outright cheat on him since it would have made her character less likable and taken away from the film.
I highly recommend Me Before You for anyone that enjoys romantic films, Emilia Clarke/Sam Claflin, or films that make you think. While the movie will definitely make you feel sad, it will also make you smile and feel uplifted. It was reminiscent of both The Fault in Our Stars and Brooklyn in certain ways, though it was also quite different from either of them. I think there is something that everyone can get out of this film, but couples and people in their twenties will most be able to relate to the story and characters.