Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 22, 2016)
With an early June release date, 2016’s Me Before You came out smack-dab in the middle of summer blockbuster season. A small character drama amid a sea of big-budget adventures, Me attempted “counter-programming” – and succeeded.
While Me earned a modest $56 million in the US, it did surprisingly well internationally. Usually it takes “language-proof” action flicks to make money outside of the US, but the weepy romance took in almost $200 million total. Due to its mere $20 million budget, the movie turned a sizable profit.
Based on Jojo Moyes’ 2012 novel, Me Before You introduces us to Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke), a cheerful young woman who gets a job to work as caregiver for disabled millionaire Will Traynor (Sam Claflin).
Will used to live an active lifestyle, but an accident left him wheelchair-bound – and desperately unhappy. Bitter and angry, Will shows little interest in life, but his relationship with Lou alters his outlook.
I freely admit that I’m not the target audience for a weepy romance like Me Before You, but I also maintain that this shouldn’t really matter. A good movie is a good movie, and I’ve enjoyed enough films “outside of my wheelhouse” to appreciate this distinction.
Unfortunately, Me isn’t a good movie. It’s not even a mediocre movie, as its turgid attempts to tweak heartstrings and tear ducts became a chore to watch.
Warning: spoilers ahead!
From what I understand, Me stirred up controversy due to its depiction of a suicidal disabled man – or at least due the way the film explores his emotions and journey. I don’t think anyone can argue against the choice to depict Will’s unhappiness, as that makes sense. Someone who goes from active and athletic to wheelchair-bound in his twenties undoubtedly would feel miserable about this.
The issue comes from where Me takes Will. He’s not suicidal because he’s in pain – he wants to end his life because he’s no longer the extreme sports-lovin’, hot babe bangin’ bro he used to be. If you can’t jump off cliffs and run with the bulls, why live?
Yeesh. That notion makes you wonder if Will planned to kill himself when he hit 40 even without the physical disability. As depicted here, Will seems so obsessed with his need for adrenaline that he completely ignores the positives in his life.
And Me amps up those positives via Will’s relationship with Lou. He finds a beautiful woman to love and cherish, and he experiences happiness for the first time since his accident.
So what does he do? He kills himself anyway! Even with the love of a woman, supportive parents and all the monetary resources one could desire, Will can’t live with himself if he can’t rock out with his cock out like he did pre-accident.
Yeesh again. I can definitely understand why the movie’s POV would offend the disabled, as it basic tells them that they’re worthless if they can’t perform like they did in their physical primes. Again, what would the Wills of the world do when they aged naturally? Aren’t there pleasures in life to be had other than partyin’ with the bros?
Apparently not, and this becomes a major flaw – though far from the only issue to be found in Me. Even with a less narcissistic journey, the movie would remain slow and tedious. We should get caught up in Lou and Will’s romantic tale, but we don’t care. They seem so thinly drawn that we maintain no investment in them or their connection.
A terrible lead performance from Clarke doesn’t help. Apparently convinced she was the star in a new Bridget Jones movie, she mugs for the camera incessantly.
Dear Lord, does Clarke overact! She engages in crazy eyebrow acting, where she distends and morphs her face into all sorts of unnatural expressions more reminiscent of Jim Carrey than one would imagine. One of the more manic of all Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Clarke creates a wholly grating personality who actively annoys us.
Claflin does better as Will, though the script does him few favors. Still, unlike the over the top Clarke, at least he leaves the movie with his dignity intact.
Actually, the best performances come from Charles Dance and Janet McTeer as Will’s parents. They make the most of their limited screentime and provide the only believable characters on display.
They’re not enough to save this maudlin mess. Me Before You insults disabled people while it also creates a bland, mawkish attempt at romance. Little about this movie succeeds.