You know the story. It’s played out many times before, although not with Me Before You’s exact ending. Even if you haven’t read the book, just one viewing of the trailer lets you know everything you need to know about Me Before You before you buy a ticket. You can safely assume from the trailers and clips it’s a tearjerker centering on a mismatched couple who will, over the course of two hours, go from irritating the heck out of each other to discovering they’re soulmates. Been there, done that. There’s nothing new to see here, right? Not so fast. What you might not have been able to discern from the trailers is the genuine chemistry between Emilia Clarke as the optimistic, in over her head Lou and Sam Claflin as Will Traynor, a handsome, wealthy business man/extreme sports kind of guy whose life was tragically altered in the blink of an eye.
The romantic drama is based on the bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes who adapted the story for the screen, which should help fans of the book get past the “Hollywood always screws it up” hurdle. The story follows Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark (Emilia Clarke) who, after losing the steady job she depended on to help her parents pay the rent, goes through a series of employment misfires before landing a gig helping Will. Lou has a kooky fashion sense, preferring mismatched outfits consisting of crazy leotards and interesting knitted sweaters to any sort of normal work attire. Will’s initially thrown off not only by Lou’s daily selection of bizarre apparel but also by her perky personality and lack of a filter. She says what’s on her mind and that’s not something Will has experienced much of since the accident that shattered his body. Lou hasn’t had any training in assisting a person with disabilities, but she’s a fairly quick study and with the help of Will’s nurse, Nathan (Stephen Peacocke), she manages to get by when it comes to handling medical issues.
As the days go by, what began as an awkward, almost adversarial relationship transforms into something deeper than a working relationship – and deeper than just a friendship. Lou and Will benefit equally from their time spent together, with Lou developing a new sense of purpose and Will discovering his smile again. But, there’s a reason this one’s labeled a tearjerker…
Clarke and Claflin elevate the material which, although adapted by Moyes, barely scratches the surface of the book. Supporting characters from the book did not make the leap to the screen, and relationships that don’t directly involve either Lou or Will are either lightly touched upon or completely neglected. There’s also a surprising lack of urgency in Lou’s actions in the film that was present (and crucial) in the book after the major plot twist is revealed. And as a fellow critic and book fan pointed out immediately after the screening, the film makes it clear what the answer to the pivotal question will be while the book did a better job of teasing the decision and toying with the readers’ emotions.
Janet McTeer and Charles Dance are terrific as Will’s parents, and Matthew Lewis (best known as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films) is not nearly as obnoxious as Lou’s exercise obsessed boyfriend as the character was in Moyes’ book. Peacocke’s also fine as Nathan, Will’s caretaker/nurse/friend, although the character is purely one-dimensional in the movie.
But, obviously, Me Before You depends on Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin’s performances to draw you into the story, and both deliver first-rate performances. Clarke in particular is a joy to watch as she nails the quirky, optimistic character while avoiding going overboard on the perkiness. Claflin’s forced into delivering a much more restrained performance and it’s a nice counter-balance to Clarke’s effervescent Lou.
I’d advise you to bring tissues and wear waterproof mascara to Me Before You, and to keep in mind the book and movie are separate creatures. Put aside what you know about the characters from the book and let the film stand on its own. Romantic tearjerkers are few and far between, and you’re not likely to find many better than Me Before You in theaters this year.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material
Running Time: 110 minutes
Directed By: Thea Sharrock