Me Before You (Thea Sharrock, 2016)
Thirtysomething Will Traynor has everything going for him: he’s handsome, athletic, insanely rich and gives off that healthy glow that only the best skin products and organic foods can provide. As played by Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games series), he may be a little too prone to a pout, but no matter, as even the most perfect among us need a flaw. And just in case his inexplicable orneriness becomes a downer, there’s always perky Louisa Clark – played by Emilia Clarke (no relation), so marvelously dour in Terminator Genisys, and so relentlessly upbeat here – to enliven the proceedings. Seriously, though, what’s wrong with this guy? Why can’t he just enjoy life?
Ah, well, there’s the rub. You see, Will is a C3 quadriplegic, unable to move much of anything other than his head and a little bit of one hand. At the start of our tale, he is a master London financier, getting out of the bed where he has just spent the night with an attractive woman, walking out into the rain, and stepping into the path of an oncoming motorcycle. Cut to black, and two years later, we now find Will living in his family mansion in a small English village dominated by a castle, tended to by his parents and a male nurse. Meanwhile, down the road, twentysomething Louisa (or Lou, as she is called) loses the one job she’s ever really had (waitressing in a coffee shop), and as an important breadwinner for her for, oddly (read: inexplicably) unemployable family, she needs to find another job, and quickly. The Traynors are hoping to go the non-traditional route in terms of hospice care and find someone more companion than additional nurse, since Will is depressed, and so they hire Lou.
I do not mean to make light of the plight of people with spinal-cord injuries. Unfortunately, the casting of Mr. Claflin, the refusal to make him look anything less than a stud (albeit a stud in a wheelchair) and the direction of his performance (by first-time feature director Thea Sharrock) towards the occasional pained grimace as a marker of torment all serve to make a joke out of the premise. This is not a man who suffers; this is a man about whom many tragic things are said, but for whose integrity of character no one on the production team seems to have cared. At one point, shorn of his shirt, the buff Claflin ripples in the sun. Sad fate, indeed. Not to mention all that money.
This is too bad, as the source text (a book of the same title, by JoJo Moyes), despite many flaws, did, at least, spend a significant amount of time establishing some sense of verisimilitude as far as Will Traynor’s misery is concerned. The movie is too concerned with glib romance and easy tears to do even that, despite the fact that Ms. Moyes has adapted her own novel. Indeed, most of the plot details not concerned with the central romance (that’s right, Lou finds herself drawn to Will, and vice versa) have been shorn, something I would normally admire in a novelist refusing to treat her baby as sacred. Here, however, that proverbial baby is completely thrown out with the bathwater, and so what strengths the book had are excised. What remains is unbearable pablum that makes a mockery of injury and resultant disabilities, and worse, of life and death struggles. I like a good cathartic weep as much as the next man (no comment), but cannot abide unearned sentimentality. Better luck next cry.