When a movie advertises itself as a “tearjerker,” I quickly become cynical and determined not to cry. I rarely cry at the movies. I cried twice at Inside Out, and of course, like everyone, teared up at Avengers: Age of Ultron (curse you hulkbuster scene, playing with my emotions like that!).
I didn’t mean to go see Me Before You, but sometimes you just gotta go to the movies with a friend and see what the hubbub is about. So I saw it. (Paging all studio execs reading this review- I’m a girl who goes to big blockbusters, too. There were men in the theater. Please stop it with the obsession about making a lady-movie genre and excluding us from everything else.)
Anyway, I did not cry. I did, however, smash my water cup between my fingers and get very, very angry.
(HUGE SPOILERS BELOW)
Me Before You stars your favorite quirky neighbor girlfriend Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke), who lives in the most Englishy-place to ever be English. After she loses her job, she and her eccentric wardrobe of character development tries to find a new job so she can support her family. Luckily, the family who owns the castle next door needs someone to be a companion for their very beautiful and very rich son, Will (Sam Claflin), who is a quadriplegic.
Luckily for Lou, she doesn’t have to do any of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to Will (which would make this romance less glamorous) and instead is supposed to be a ray of sunshine. This is difficult though, when your patient is prepared to have physician-assisted suicide in a few months.
So obviously, Lou decides she’s going to make Will change his mind through expensive vacations, which obviously will work because how else do you find the meaning in life besides going on short, frivolous vacations that your rich family can easily bankroll? Will decides, however, that he must go through with the plan. His identity is too tied up in who he “used to be,” and at the age of 29, and 2 ½ years into being a quadriplegic, he obviously has the perspective to understand his life has absolutely no meaning now and no potential. So he tells Lou that even though he led her on, he is still going to die. But it’s actually super noble, because now she won’t be tethered down to him and he’s going to give her money to travel.
So after a cry, Louisa and his parents decide to be supportive of him, because it’s “his choice.” “His choice” to play God, “his choice” to throw away all the good things life has given him, “his choice” to give a big middle finger to caretakers who spend their lives nobly.
Now I’m going to defend the movie for one second. The film makes it clear that this character, Will, is making this decision because his whole rich, playboy lifestyle was based on his image. It was his idol, his everything. He couldn’t imagine a life without it. The movie does not condemn all people with disabilities as burdens.
But, a lot of people with disabilities feel the same way Will does, but they are braver than him and power on. They live their lives because they know their value. Will is portrayed as a tragic figure. Real life disabled people are not tragic figures, there to make you inspired to run that marathon. They are just real people.
When I go to the movies, I look for examples of hope. Will showed no hope. And as someone who believes life is valuable and should be protected, the fact that the movie just shrugged and said, “hey, if you’re in pain or have it rough, just forget moral fiber and do what you want,” made me angry.
But let’s forget that glaring problem for a second and focus on some positives. The film is incredibly well-acted. Emilia Clarke takes what could be an insufferable role and makes Louisa very likable. I liked the emphasis on parents, and what they do for their children with disabilities. Besides the CGI leaves representing time, haircuts representing change, and overbearing vocals of Ed Sheeran singing “loving can hurt” while characters look glumly out of windows, the film is pleasant to watch. Solid cinematography and production design contribute to a film that is very well directed technically by Thea Sharrock.
But I can’t get the ending of the film out of my mind. The film does not glorify Will’s decision. But it is okay with it. And that’s wrong. I find it fascinating that the twitter hashtag for this movie was #LiveBoldy. Maybe, taking the actual movie into account, the hashtag should be #LiveBoldyIfYoureAbleBodied. In fact the title, Me Before You, is the epiphany of the selfishness in this movie, which misses the point of romance and relationships completely.