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Me Before You knows exactly what it is. From its mushy, mawkish soundtrack to the fact that its trailer basically lays out its entire plot for all to see, pleading with you to come and take this emotional journey and then weep uncontrollably. But while it’s so formulaic and predictable you’ll be able to predict the exact moment when you’ll need to extract your tissues and attach them to your eye sockets, Me Before You is still touching, affecting, and charming.
The biggest reason for Me Before You’s success is Emilia Clarke, who is finally able to emerge from the shadow and smoke of a certain dragon queen to provide a quirky but enchanting performance that she’s able to make gregarious yet never annoying. Clarke is assisted dutifully in making Me Before You more appealing than its peers by her camaraderie with Sam Claflin. He has to start off the film as the arrogant, and gratingly dry Will Traynor. But this veil soon starts to wilt away as Clarke’s Louisa Clark starts to have an impact on his life, and we become more and more engrossed in their potential relationship.
Me Before You opens with William Traynor (Sam Claflin) in his extravagant London apartment in bed with his beautiful fiancée Alicia Dewar (Vanessa Kirby), and obviously loving life. But a torrential storm and a careless motorbike drive later and Traynor has become paraplegic.
Me Before You then zooms two years into the future, where we’re introduced to 26-year-old Louisa Clark, an unambitious, carefree, zesty individual who is the family bread-winner and has just been let go from her job at the local café in her very, very English small town, which has basically been ripped straight out of any Richard Curtis film. Desperate for a new job, she’s then offered the position of carer for Will, and, after a rocky start, the pair slowly grow closer. But when she learns that he’s planning a trip to Switzerland to be euthanized, she increases her efforts to reinvigorate his love of life, which sees the pair falling deeper and deeper in love themselves.
In the moment, Me Before You works splendidly, building and unfolding in a touching and emotional manner. Emilia Clarke has never looked more comfortable on screen, and you really get the sense in the nuances of her performance and the genuine warmth and excitement that she exudes that this is her actual personality.
Despite the geniality of the character, Emilia Clarke is able to inject much needed weight and panic when is required, too. Over time, and after an overwhelming, borderline annoying amount of sarcasm on his part, Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin build an infectious rapport, and you begin to feel a genuine care for the pair.
At the same time, its various attempts at humor land and pull you in closer to the plot and characters, as does, despite its preposterous Englishness, the universal resonance of its narrative. So much so that you’ll be willing to overlook the overly familiar structure, which at first sees her out of her depth, him acting like a tosser, then warming, her learning, before the final issue arrives to either set them apart forever or bring them together.
Much like last year’s Brooklyn, Me Before You doesn’t really have a villain (the closest is Matthew Lewis’ ignorant boyfriend), and instead its tensions and conflicts emerge from human dramas. Unfortunately these aren’t presented in as complex or profound a fashion as Brooklyn, as the film instead dovetails into tragedy and sorrow to connect to its audience.
The emotion and weight of the film doesn’t aim to be torturous, though, and is mostly presented in a patient and elegant manner. But while there are cheesy, eye-rolling moments, an over-reliance on montage, a superfluous and glaring sub-plot involving Louisa’s athletic boyfriend, and its soundtrack is so whiny and depressing you’ll wish your ear drums would become paralyzed, the romance is mixed with a pulverizing reality that will undoubtedly provoke tears.
Me Before You’s issues arise once the credits have rolled. Afterwards you’ll begin to question the film’s conclusion and the message it has seemingly unintentionally left. To go into more detail would ruin it for you. But it is a finale that will depressingly ruminate in your mind, and the more you think about it the more it will disappoint.
Ultimately, Me Before You is like eating a full cheesecake and then realizing that it was a week out of date. Everything beforehand has been soured. But, in the moment, it delivered what you wanted, and felt so right. It’s just a shame that the aftertaste is so bitter.