In recent years we seem to have invented a new genre, the tragic romance. Oh sure, films where there’s a doomed romance have been around since film began, but it seems like they’ve suddenly exploded recently. Basically, a tragic romance is where one or two of the partners are going to die at some point in the film, with the Fault In Our Stars being the most notable example. It’s also a film that makes me so incredibly angry for one particular scene in Anne Frank’s house. So surely as long as Me Before You doesn’t defile one of the most devastating places in the world, it’s got to be better, right? Let’s jump into the review and find out.
Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones) has recently been made redundant, but manages to find a new job as the carer of a disabled aristocratic man named Will Traynor (Sam Claflin, Snow White and the Huntsman), who is initially very ratty with her. However she is determined to make his life better and get him to come out of his shell.
So basically, this film takes on the trappings of a rom-com, and that specific kind of rom-com that really panders to a certain kind of women. The character of Lou is basically clumsy girl that’s somehow rather cute which Zooey Deschanel has made into an art, and a TV show, and almost every single scene with her is shouting at the girls in the audience ‘This is you, you relate to her! Isn’t she awkward? You’re awkward too! She’s just like you! Invest in her plight god damn it!”. Then there’s more pandering with the beau in this film Will Traynor. He’s rich, he’s hot, he needs taking care of and while his heart is cold he could be warmed up enough if you just love him enough. This film is constantly pandering to the female audience and while that isn’t bad per-se, I’ve watched and enjoyed enough male power fantasies to mean I can’t preach on this subject, it is rather obvious with it.
In fairness, both of the main actors do play a good part. Emilia Clarke does show she has range as she makes Lou so awkward and nervous yet oh so endearing in this film you do forget that in another universe she’s a bad ass mother of dragons. So while the role is a cliché, upon review, Clarke does it to the best of her ability and makes it work. And Sam Claflin makes the arsey love interest work as well, making his pain feel real at times and his transition into cold-hearted bastard into someone who genuinely cares about Lou is done rather naturally. It’s about as well done as this cliché can be done.
However about 45 minutes in, the film drops an absolute bomb, which I will spoil here. It is revealed in an argument between Will’s parents Camilla (Janet McTeer, Tideland) and Stephen (Charles Dance, The Imitation Game) that he wants to get euthanasia as he can never live the life he did when he could walk. This is already dangerous territory for a rom-com to get into, purely because this is probably the most controversial issue there, and yes I’m saying that in a time where we’ve had the EU Referendum. And the writers or the director Thea Sharrock (The Hollow Crown) have no idea what to do with it upon review.
There are attempts to have the argument of whether it is right or not, but they are passed over so quickly to focus on the developing romance between the two. So what we end up with is Lou’s mum Josie (Samantha Spiro, From Hell) having an angry rant that Will is selfish for wanting to kill himself and it goes by without being addressed. Basically a writer has seen that argument on the internet, wants to include it to make sure their film is balanced and has no idea why anyone would think that, so it just sits there. There is not enough time in the film to fully develop this huge debate, so it feels like a flimsy way to add extra tragedy and it’s not needed. Especially as there’s a plot device in the film where Will gets pneumonia a lot which could be used to kill him off if you are determined to have your tragic romance where everyone is crying at the end of the film.
Alas, there are a few issues with the plot itself. Lou has a boyfriend called Patrick (Matthew Lewis, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) who’s there to add some extra conflict as her feelings start to grow for Will, but he’s barely in the film and when the big issue of Will comes up in a conversation, it’s dealt with so quickly that there’s very little point of having it. In fact, you could have cut the boyfriend out completely and maybe developed those euthanasia arguments a bit more so we had a fully fleshed out film that is actually smart about a controversial issue, which I imagine the book (Which I haven’t read) is.
It’s perfectly fine if you want to make a rom-com full of clichés that’s purely there to make a few insecure teenagers feel good about themselves, that’s what the genre was created for. But if you want to drop such a hot-button topic like euthanasia in there, you better make sure you have the nouse to deal with it properly and give the film time to actually develop it.
Unfortunately this film does not and instead it seems like euthanasia was just here to make sure we had a suitably tragic ending, which can’t be the case as it was based on a book which must have a similar plot. And because of that, Me Before You fails in its main aim. I didn’t cry at the end, I didn’t even get a lump in my throat. Upon review, not as emotional as it promised.