There have been some incredible movies about overcoming physical adversity. Two years ago Eddie Redmayne took home the Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Daniel Day Lewis did the same for his role as Christy Brown in 1989’s My Left Foot. In 1946, Sam Goldwyn cast soldier and double-amputee Harold Russell in The Best Years of Our Lives, a powerful film on the difficulties of vets returning from the war. It won multiple Oscars, including Best Supporting for Russell. There’s also Born on the 4th of July, Coming Home, The Elephant Man, The Miracle Worker – all good movies. If you want romance thrown in, you can look at that ultimate weeper, 1957’s An Affair to Remember. Now there’s the new film Me Before You. This is the only time it gets mentioned in any proximity to those previous, excellent films.
The story revolves around the quirky Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke), a woman in her twenties who had thought of taking fashion design in university but put her plans on hold to help support her family. When she’s let go from her job at a bakery, things look desperate. Then she hears about a position as a companion to a quadriplegic. Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is the only child of the richest family in Lou’s small English town – they own the local castle/tourist attraction. Will was once a hard-driving banker in London and extreme sports enthusiast, but a motorcycle accident left him paralyzed. His parents (Charles Dance, Jane McTeer) have the resources to care for him, including renovating part of their estate so he has his own flat. His mother hires Lou in spite of her having no experience because of the one thing she does have in abundance – joie de vive.
It’s interesting to see Clarke in a role so completely different from the Mother of Dragons on “Game of Thrones” and you do root for her in this film. She’s well matched with Claflin, who made a splash a Finnick in The Hunger Games series. Based on their performances it would be easy to like this movie, and I had had a positive response to it while watching the film. The film also features former Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman as Lou’s sister Treena, and she makes the most of her small role.
But afterward the film leaves you with a bad aftertaste as the weaknesses of the story keep coming back into my mind. I might have blamed it on the translation of the original book to the screen, except the screenplay was done by the book’s author, Jojo Moyes. The story is about as antiseptic as possible. Lou doesn’t have to deal with any of the medical requirements beyond administering medicine. There’s a male nurse (Stephen Peacocke) to handle all the messy work, and none of it shows up on camera.
Worse, though, is the self-indulgence of the characters, especially Will. He’s had a charmed existence throughout his life, and even after the accident he has resources available that could allow him to create a new life even with his challenges. Instead he focuses on what he’s lost. In the scene where Lou first meets Will, he does a horrible impression of My Left Foot. It may have been seen by Moyes as a way to separate the two stories, but if anything it reminds the audience how much this film suffers in comparison to Day Lewis’s towering performance.
The novel the movie’s based on was published 4 years ago. What makes me sad is how many great movies have to struggle for years – decades, occasionally – to finally get made, yet this meringue gets to the local Cineplex almost before the printing presses finished spitting it out. They do say adversity helps build character. But then you have to have some character to start with.