A watchable, middle-of-the-road romantic dramedy that neither dishonours its difficult focal subject nor deals with it in much depth, Me Before You is nevertheless propelled forward by solid direction and a fine turn from rising star Sam Claflin.
Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a small-town girl who takes a job caring for a quadriplegic young man, William Traynor (Claflin), who deeply resents his condition and is struggling to believe that life’s worth living. The perky, optimistic Louisa nevertheless tries to help change his mind, and in the process, the two get drawn ever-closer together.
Yes, this is an unashamed weepie, though surprisingly, it is somewhat more restrained than you might expect, at least compared to the manipulative emotional assaults from Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Yes, the overly obvious, even sappy music interludes are more cringe-worthy than affecting, but the human drama itself is relatively effective.
It’s a shame that any serious discussion about end-of-life care and euthanasia is wrapped around an extremely broad comic palette, though, with obvious gags generating polite laughs, while Clarke still struggles to find her footing outside of Game of Thrones, offering up a peculiar performance full of over-affected facial expressions and irksome chirpiness. She doesn’t sink the film, but she’s still waiting to prove that she’s actually a well-rounded performer, and this isn’t the role that does it.
Claflin is easily the best-of-show, capturing both the sardonic wit and frustration that can only emerge from such dire circumstances, while the vulnerability gradually reveals itself as the film progresses. It’s no easy role, and he makes it compellingly fully-formed even when the rest of the movie isn’t working quite so well. As his conflicted parents, Charles Dance and Janet McTeer are sadly criminally underused, though effective every nanosecond they’re on screen.
While the pic smartly doesn’t shy away from the realities of Traynor’s life, it’s a shame that it missed a grand opportunity to confront its most divisive issue in a more thoughtful manner, instead cutting through the middle of the argument for a more conventional, tightly-contained movie for the most mainstream of audiences.
It’s certainly not bad and borders on being genuinely decent, but it’s also firing far too broadly to be affecting or thoughtful enough to do its subject matter true justice.
Me Before You is in cinemas June 3rd