Monday, June 6, 2016

Review: Me Before You

by Adam Riske
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this movie and I’m not certain I ever will.

Movies can be a peculiar beast. I recently attended the Chicago Critics Film Festival and have one minor gripe. When you walked out of the theater, the organizers handed you a ballot where you mark 1-5 depending on how much you liked the movie you just saw. I don’t like that very much and those feelings have just been amplified for me as of late. I don’t think it’s fair to judge or critique a movie based solely on your gut reaction or immediate impression. There were many times during the festival where I wanted to go back and re-do my ratings of the films I saw. In the ensuing hours or maybe even days, I liked some more and some less. Just my opinion, but I think you need to take at least 12 hours and think about a movie before giving your impression about it. It makes for better criticism. Art is complicated and should be treated with more contemplation.
Why do I say all of this to open up my review of Me Before You? Because as the closing credits rolled, I experienced a feeling in the theater I can rarely remember having: hating a movie that I sort of liked. I blew up Twitter calling the movie evil and told my parents, who I had lunch with after seeing Me Before You, about how gross some of its messages and character choices were. As the afternoon progressed, my temper cooled and I began to give more weight to the aspects of the movie I enjoyed or at least appreciated. Now as I write this review I’m still working out my feelings on Me Before You and I’m not sure I recommend it as a whole. I can’t even conceive of what star ranking of 1-5 I would have given it.

I have a suspicion, though I have nothing to back it up, that Me Before You was greenlit based on the success of a similar (in some ways) romance from 2014 called The Fault in Our Stars, which was a movie I like quite a bit. More importantly for the studio and filmmakers, it proved that there was an audience for a movie about a possibly doomed romance. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both films have the opening day slot of the first weekend of June. I just need one more example to prove my point. Watch this release date in 2017 and 2018 is all I’m saying. Much like how the first weekend of May has become the launch point for the summer movie season, the first weekend of June may soon become the summer weepie slot.

I bring this up because I think the marketing for this movie is very smart, albeit calculated and more than a little dishonest. Warner Bros. is positioning Me Before You as a “love conquers all” narrative between a young woman named Louisa (Emilia Clarke), who is hired to be a companion/caregiver for a man named Will (Sam Claflin), who is paralyzed from the neck down. The two begin their relationship not liking one another very much but over time (as expected) form a connection and even a romance. How a non-paralyzed woman can navigate a relationship (consisting of daily routines, etc.) with a paralyzed man is more than enough drama to sustain a two hour movie in my eyes. But what the studio barely hints at in the marketing is that the story has a sucker punch in store, taking the movie from a romantic drama to a message movie. Even if that’s unintended and the film primarily wants to be a romance, the themes it incorporates are so loaded in controversy and raw emotion that it has to be a message movie. This is where things get complicated for me in assessing Me Before You. As a statement on a delicate issue, I think the film is somewhat cruel, offensive and harmful to those who have similar disablements. It presents them as a burden and not as human beings who just happen to be in need of caregiving and the use of a wheelchair. But as a character study, taking away the issue at large and only considering it as the depiction of one individual’s choice, it is pretty well done. This movie is like a rap song that sounds great but you cringe when you hear how ugly its lyrics are.
This is one of the rare cases I say it’s better to know what you’re in for before seeing a movie. You can read the plot of the film by visiting the novel’s (on which the film is based and of the same title) Wikipedia page. Me Before You put me in some very uncomfortable places and made me actively question the morality of the characters in the story so much that by the film’s end it made me pretty much dislike the Will character, who I feel in his actions towards Louisa is short-sighted and perhaps inadvertently cruel. The performance, however, by Sam Claflin is pretty terrific. He’s a charming and interesting lead.

The movie seems so mean (for lack of a better word) primarily because the duress is pointed at a character that is played by the luminous Emilia Clarke. Louisa is put into a situation that no temp worker should ever have to be in from the outset (at least emotionally), and Will’s treatment of her is manipulative and controlling in many ways emotionally and, let’s not forget, financially. It’s a weird move that Will also happens to be super rich and that character aspect puts Me Before You in some icky Fifty Shades of Grey territory. I don’t know if the author (who is also the screenwriter of the film) is aware of the emotional residue she is leaving at the foot of her lead female character. Shit happens in the six months during which this movie takes place that would potentially ruin a person (primarily their optimism) for life. But I want to get back to Emilia Clarke specifically and not her character. This is an irresistible performance. I only have history with her from Terminator: Genisys so it wasn’t until now that I “get it” with her. She is so warm, likable and interesting in this movie that it makes me want to watch every season of Game of Thrones (which I’ve never seen) immediately. I could tell she was great in this movie just based on the trailer. It’s one of those performances that announces a movie star.
So I’m left appreciating the performances and even crying at one point (during a dance at a wedding) at a movie that makes me more than a little mad. I’d love to go into spoilers in the comments on this one and hear what everyone else thinks of Me Before You. It’s not a film I’m going to return to, but it’s one that I’m certain to not forget for a very long time. If pressed, I’d rate it a 3 out of 5 now that I’ve had some time to live with it. If you would have asked me as I walked out of the theater, I would have replied “Me Befuck You.”


  1. The commercials (that seemed to be endless on CometTV of all places) gave me enough information to tell me that I wanted to avoid this. I go to the movies for some escape and "Slow Death By [fill in the blank]" don't qualify for me.
    My only comment is - based on my experience, so far - if you know anyone disabled don't try to get into any sort of discussion about this movie with them. "Whose Life Is It Anyway", "Million Dollar Baby" etc are just movies....this one for some reason is the whole world telling them they should all just go away and die.


  3. I'll admit I only went to see this movie for Emilia Clarke, who plays my favorite character in Game of Thrones. Her character here couldn't be more different and I love her even more.

    I was pleasantly surprised with a lot of what this movie had to say about relationships and everyone's individual role in them.

    My only real gripe (which is entirely biased) is that I actually thought Emilia Clarke was miscast, despite her giving a great performance. She's constantly referred to as an average, dull girl who should be overlooked. You just can't do that for a woman who was voted "sexiest woman alive."

    All in all, I enjoyed this movie much more than I thought I would.

    1. I bought her as the average type. I think it's just a testament to how good she is in the movie. That said (and I hope this comes off as a compliment) here and her on-screen sister...whew! Beautiful women.

    2. That explains to me now why the ad was on CometTV so much - a Game of Thrones actress and Jenna Coleman who played Clara Oswald on Doctor Who.

  4. It IS so tricky because I find myself seeing the "yeah but" argument on just about every controversial aspect here. Suicide is such a tricky conversation piece alone in itself when getting down to feelings of an individual. I've never seen it as selfish on ones part who really struggle with demons - if you don't wanna live anymore, who's to say what's selfish? The being rich aspect just adds even more to it - rich people kill the,selves all the time while poor say "if I had that kind of money to pay for my hospital bills let alone a caretaker instead of having my sickly mother do it I wouldn't be complaining" or the freedom to get on a PRIVATE JET and go anywhere in the world! The people with less always see people with more as having easier lives, but that doesn't make the rich's demons got away. I don't know!!

    It's just boils down to, since we are talking about a movie, that this one just does a piss poor job of positing the why of his decision. Most of it seems to say that humans aren't worth anything unless they can fuck or have a spouse. He didn't want to die bc he had pneumonia every year, he wanted to die because girls in Paris wouldn't look at him as a sex object anymore - or atleast that's what this movie forced the character to say.

    1. Your second paragraph makes an excellent point.

    2. Or that people who can only see the world for what it means to them - and not how their actions effect other people - will always be the same no matter what happens in their lives? That shallow people won't necessarily have an epiphany because of a tragedy?

      For some reason this all reminded me of the story Christopher Reeve told about the day or so after his accident and how he was just there in the hospital wishing that the doctors hadn't saved him just to spend his life as a quadriplegic. And then, his long time friend Robin Williams came to see him and made him laugh...

  5. Just read through the plot synopsis of the book on Wikipedia. As someone with Cerebral Palsy, and therefore someone who never even experienced a "super-active lifestyle" before being thrust into life with a handicap/disability, the viewpoint behind the Will character fills me with a very special kind of keen loathing.

    At least you had a shot at living the good life, man. Appreciate what you had, and the fact you're still alive (not to mention the fact that someone who seems really nice and attractive is willing to be your caretaker, which is not an easy thing to do) and shut the fuck up.

    Or you could, you know, kill yourself and devastate everyone around you, just because your life isn't as easy as it used to be. Ugh. Disgustingly weak.

    But it's not like I have strong opinions on this, or anything. Not at all hahaha.