“Me Before You”

                Those of us who have read the book (by JoJo Moyes) before seeing the film sometimes begin with a disadvantage:  we’ve got these characterizations in our heads, and the figures on the screen don’t necessarily correspond to them.  “Me Before You” is an exception:  the casting is really excellent.  And Emilia Clarke is brilliant is Lou, a twenty-something “townie” who still lives at home and hasn’t really been anywhere or done anything, besides working part-time at a local pastry shop.  But when that job suddenly ends, she’s really desperate, because her Dad is out of work, and her older sister has a young child, and the family just needs the income.  So she applies for a job for which she has absolutely no qualifications:  as a caregiver to a quadriplegic. 

            Before the tragic accident, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) was a great athlete, a daring adventurer, and a successful (though cutthroat) businessman.  In short, he had the world by the tail, until one day he gets run over by a motorcycle while hailing a cab in the rain.  Spinal cord injury.  Permanent.  No real hope of improvement.  He can move the fingers of one hand just enough to push the button on his self-propelled wheelchair.  Other than that, he needs assistance with everything.  Which he absolutely hates.  Actually, he’s ready to just end it all, but he promises his parents he’ll give them six months if they’ll allow him to fly to Switzerland afterwards for the euthanasia.  They reluctantly agree; feeling it’s better than finding him with his wrists slit again.  But they secretly hope that this perky and quirky new caregiver might brighten up Will’s outlook.

            It isn’t easy, of course.  Will’s determined to be the sour curmudgeon, but Lou’s spirit is just irrepressible.  Her wardrobe is somewhere between tacky and fanciful, but her face is so expressive, and her eyes so mischievous, and her smile so bright, that Will can’t help but smile at her, despite himself.  He affects condescension by calling her by her last name (Clark), but he’s enjoying watching her experience many things for the first time---beginning with a movie with subtitles, and moving all the way to scuba diving.

            Emilia Clarke is nothing short of lustrous in this role.  We can’t help but enjoy her silly tenderness, as well, and her wide-eyed innocence.  She hopes against hope that Will Traynor will change his mind about his intentions.  But really, what he wants is for her to change her mind about his freedom of choice.  Despite the melodramatic context, it’s not as maudlin as you might fear.  It’s an effervescent romance in a wheelchair-bound setting.  Perfect for all of us romantic fools.

Questions for Discussion:

1)                   What’s the most unlikely romance you’ve ever experienced?  What’s the most unlikely romance you’ve ever witnessed?

2)                  What’s on your bucket list?  How likely are you to check off those items?

3)                  What if someone gave you money enough to do what you wanted---what would you do?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association