Get out the tissues.
Jojo Moyes’ bestselling novel comes to the big screen starring the adorable Emilia Clarke (sans her dragons) and the very appealing Sam Claflin (from The Hunger Games). Moyes also wrote the screenplay, so the film sticks closely to the book, something that will undoubtedly please her fans.
Moyes’ story is a twist on the familiar theme of star-crossed lovers. When Louisa Clark (Clarke) loses her waitress job, she finds employment as a caregiver and companion to Will Traynor (Claflin) a quadriplegic whose wealthy family lives in a castle that for centuries has dominated the landscape in a picturesque British town. Will, despondent about his physical condition, wants to end his life at Dignitas, an assisted suicide organization based in Switzerland. While Will’s father (Charles Dance) understands his son’s decision, Will’s mother, Camilla (Janet McTeer) hopes to change his mind. A skilled nurse, Nathan (Stephen Peacocke), takes care of Will’s bodily needs, but Camilla hires Lou hoping the quirky young woman can lift Will’s spirits and convince him to keep living.
Charles Dance and Janet McTeer
Lou and Will are polar opposites. Lou’s father, Bernard (Brendan Coyle, Bates from Downton Abbey), has lost his job and Lou, putting her own future on hold, is supporting the family. She’s never been outside her small town, never attended a concert, and never watched a foreign film with subtitles. Her boyfriend, Patrick (Matthew Lewis) is a self-absorbed exercise fanatic. (For Lou’s birthday, he gives her a necklace that says “Patrick.”) Before his accident, Will was a star at his firm and dazzled his friends with his athletic ability. “I loved my life,” he tells Lou. The morning of his accident, he gave in to his girlfriend’s urging not to ride his motorcycle in the rain and, as fate would have it, was struck by another motorcycle.
Lou and Will get off to a bad start. He resents her presence, his behavior condescending, even hostile. Lou, however, is willing to put up with a lot to keep the well-paying job. She’s also a Pollyanna, able to see something positive in even Will’s situation. Her appearance alone serves to pick up Will’s spirits. Lou favors fuzzy pastel sweaters, brightly patterned skirts, and whimsical shoes. Predictably, Will’s icy attitude begins to thaw. He introduces Lou to foreign films and agrees to attend a Mozart concert. When he’s invited to his ex-girlfriend’s wedding, he asks Lou to go with him. In Lou’s presence, he seems less self-conscious about his disability, even taking a turn on the dance floor in his wheelchair with Lou on his lap.
Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin
While Will seems happier, he hasn’t changed his mind about ending his life and the 60 days he promised his parents to wait is nearly at an end. Lou, however, refuses to give up, pressing Will to go on a dream vacation. Accompanied by Nathan, the three fly on a private jet to a tropical island. While the word “love” is never spoken, it’s obvious the two have indeed fallen for each other. On a moonlit beach, they share a kiss. But that intimate moment proves frustrating for Will, bringing home that he would never be able to have the type of relationship with Lou that he truly wants and she deserves. (Get those tissues ready.)
Clarke and Claflin have wonderful chemistry. Director Thea Sharrock allows the pair’s relationship to unfold slowly so we are able to watch these two talented actors test each other and then finally come together. Clarke’s face is particularly expressive and she’s wonderful to watch. Fans of Game of Thrones will enjoy seeing her in an entirely different role. Claflin has a tough job, conveying an array of emotions while remaining immobile. The scenes where Will’s condition takes a turn for the worse are particularly tense, underlining how even with the best of care a quadriplegic’s health is sometimes precarious.
Sam Claflin and Stephen Peacocke
Moyes’ book received uniformly positive reviews when it was first published in 2012 and went on to become an international bestseller. Yet even before the film’s opening, disability advocates have protested what they feel are problematic messages. Will’s charge to Lou to “live fully”, seems to imply, the groups say, that only able-bodied people can do so and that euthanasia becomes a likely choice. (Other films besides Me After You – Million Dollar Baby and Whose Life Is It Anyway? – have shown individuals with paralyzing injuries fighting for the right to die.) Moyes and the film’s stars have emphasized that Me Before You is simply one story (and a fictional one at that) about one man’s decision. And there has been praise for the book, specifically from The Christopher Reeve Foundation. (See Robin Weaver’s interview with Jojo Moyes.)
With robust sales for the book, the film is expected to do well at the box office. In a summer filled with super heroes and sequels, Me Before You provides an alternative for moviegoers. If this movie also sparks a discussion about how the disabled are portrayed in all forms of media, that would be a very positive outcome.
Me After You opens nationwide June 3, 2016.
Photos from Warner Bros.