“Me Before You” is what is commonly referred to as a tearjerker, in that it attempts to produce tears with the nuance of someone reaching into your eye sockets, pulling out your eyes and squeezing them. In fact, the film employs musical cues—usually someone poking the high notes on a piano—just in case the teary-eyed actors don’t get the job done. It’s quite the assembly line of mawkishness. But you already know this. You’ve seen it before and you’re well aware of its effect on you.
The movie stars Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin as the love-bound couple, Lou and Will. Lou’s life is relatively dull; she bounces from one insecure job to the next and her boyfriend is an obnoxious bore who counts calories—his only reason for existing in the film is to draw a contrast with Will. Her job search lands her as caretaker to the handsome, rich and young Will Traynor, a recent quadriplegic. Despite living in a mansion and having the greatest healthcare money can buy, Will is suicidal because he can’t water-ski anymore. After months of taking care of Will, the Florence Nightingale effect begins to set in and Lou develops feelings for him. For unlike her brutish boyfriend, Will watches foreign films, listens to Mozart and spouts French phrases with a perfect accent. It’s all rather unbearable.
But not as unbearable as it could have been, I suppose. Clarke is served a character who could have been nails on a chalkboard—she squeals a lot and dresses like an Easter egg—but she imbues Lou with enough authenticity to make the character work. Caflin, on the other hand, doesn’t make much of his paralyzed, intellectual bachelor, other than speaking with a vocal fry in an attempt to sound smart. One of Emilia Clarke’s fellow “Game of Thrones” stars, the great Charles Dance, joins her here—though he’s reduced to smiling affably and making jaunty observations.
The film has little going for it as a romance, as it’s clumsy and unbelievable. Lou and Will go from exchanging awkward niceties to exchanging playful banter to exchanging fluids without any connective tissue. Everything happens because it needs to, so the next thing can happen. And, of course, there is a kiss that takes place in or around rain, which seems to be the romance genre’s version of Morgan Freeman looking at a catastrophic event and saying “Oh my God.”
Some films are greater than the sum of their parts, and some are lesser. With its bulky storytelling, blinding cinematography and mostly dull performances, “Me Before You” adds up to watching attractive people enjoy each other’s company. I’d say that’s about right.
1.5 out of 5 stars