Review: 'Me Before You' evokes tears, but lacks depth

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Well, I cried anyway.

I cried even though halfway through "Me Before You," I swore to myself I wouldn't, because the movie felt overly broad, overly simplistic, lacking depth both in characterization and in treatment of the serious issues it raises. At the end, I still thought all those things ... but the tears came anyway. It seems that some movies — particularly those featuring young, passionate, suffering people — are destined to get the waterworks going no matter how well (or not) they tell their story.

That story is already known, of course, to fans of the novel by Jojo Moyes, who adapted her book here. Like the (better) 2014 tearjerker "The Fault in Our Stars," this film version, directed by Thea Sharrock, probably is a slam dunk for the book's fans, who will likely be crying from the first scene.

For the rest of us, it's a bit of a harder sell. Certainly, the couple at the center of the heartbreak is appealing; both Emilia Clarke ("Game of Thrones") and Sam Claflin ("The Hunger Games") have beautiful smiles.

But especially in the case of Clarke, that smile — a very wide one — is relied upon way too much, with the camera often lingering for long seconds during which we could actually have been, say, learning something more about her character.

Clarke plays Louisa, an amiable cafe waitress in an English town. We meet her on the day she loses her job, throwing her struggling extended family into turmoil. Louisa — or Lou, as she's called — has few skills but manages to get an interview at the grand Traynor estate.

It turns out the job entails caring for the son of the family, Will. We've met Will in the prologue; he was a dashing, supremely handsome London banker with a taste for extreme sports when one day, he left home (and his sexy blonde girlfriend) and was hit by a motorcycle, paralyzing him from the neck down.

After a brief interview with Will's mother (the excellent Janet McTeer), Lou gets the job. Her task will be to provide cheer, since Will's medical needs are already tended to by a nurse (though the movie shows hardly any of this). But Will is bitter and mostly silent. He first greets Lou with a naughty "My Left Foot" impression, then proceeds to either ignore her or toss barbs about her whimsically wacky wardrobe, which includes leprechaun shoes (a trait of Lou's that is cute, until it gets annoying.)

But Lou is determined, and soon enough (too soon, dramatically speaking) Will is submitting to the warmth of her smile. He introduces her to films with subtitles. She gets him to come outside in the sun. She takes him to the horse races. She even gets him to attend a fancy concert; like Julia Roberts at the opera in "Pretty Woman," it's her first such experience, and she cries. (Also like Roberts, she wears a glamorous red dress.)

Will attends Lou's family birthday dinner. He even asks her to join him at the wedding of the former girlfriend who left him (it remains unexamined why Will would want to make this journey.) There, love seems to bloom between the two.

But Lou also discovers a truth that horrifies her: Will has been exploring the possibility of assisted suicide for months. Devastated, Lou resolves to show him that life is worth living. She brings him on an idyllic beach holiday.

The choice Will ultimately makes won't be revealed here. The movie has been criticized by some in the disabled community for suggesting, in their view, that death might be better than life as a quadriplegic. In any case, the filmmakers seem to have missed an opportunity to deal in a sophisticated way with a thorny, important subject.

Still, you'll probably cry anyway. It's that kind of film.

"Me Before You," a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for "thematic elements and some suggestive material." Running time: 110 minutes. Two stars out of four.

MPAA definition of PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.