I’ve never been a big fan of “chick lit,” as it were. More often than not, I’m likely to have a mystery or thriller in my hands, or even urban fantasy or YA, than some romantic sob story or the like. Nicholas Sparks and I aren’t exactly friends — although I will admit I’m tempted to see “The Notebook.”
But through my Goodreads site, I’d noticed a lot of hubbub about Jojo Moyes and her novel “Me Before You.” Friends had given it high ratings, and I was feeling a bit melodramatic, so I decided to give it a shot.
And, I loved it, even though it made me ugly cry.
The film adaptation, with a screenplay written by Moyes, contains a lot of the high points of the novel. However, it manages to lose some of its depth.
Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a homebody, whose main goals in life are to work, take care of her family and maybe hop down to the pub for a drink with her boyfriend, Patrick (Matthew Lewis). After losing her job at a bakery, she’s hired to be a caregiver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a former adrenaline junkie now living life as a quadriplegic.
Unbeknownest to Lou, Will has made a pact with his parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance) that they will take him to Switzerland in six months to be euthanized. He simply can’t come to terms with his condition or the life he’ll lead.
“Me Before You” is a sometimes poignant look at love and life. Clarke and Claflin have fantastic chemistry as we watch their journey from caregiver and patient to something deeper. I almost wish I hadn’t read the book, though, because it makes it hard me for me to avoid judging the film based on its source material.
Lou is a ball of energy. She’s chatty and often says things without thinking. Will is broody and quick with a sharp comment that can wound. He’s beyond caring about those around him, because he’s so consumed with his own misery.
Clarke and Claflin capture Lou and Will perfectly. There’s something beautiful in watching them develop their relationship. Will’s abrasiveness gently fades as he’s overcome by Lou’s bubbly exuberance. Making her smile becomes an important part of a life he doesn’t value.
The story of Lou and Will has come under attack from those who feel serious subject matter like a quadriplegic and suicide deserves better treatment than serving as the cornerstone for a romantic story. And maybe, it does. But at the same time, there’s something to be learned from the story of Lou and Will.
Once Lou discovers Will’s suicide pact, she takes it upon herself to show him that life is worth living at any cost. Concerts and other trips are planned, all in the hope that Will might decide he has a future after all.
I won’t tell you how it ends, but if you’re a softie, make sure you have a hanky or tissues handy.
While the book is better — isn’t it always? — “Me Before You” does hit all the high points that endeared Lou and Will to readers, and non-readers will find delight in watching these moments happen.
My boyfriend, who bravely agreed to go see this sob-fest with me, asked me afterwards if the book is a formulaic rom-com that suddenly takes a serious turn like the movie did. It isn’t. The book goes into details of Lou’s past and relationships that just aren’t mentioned in the movie. But as with any film adaptation, there’s simply not enough time to cover all the ground of a novel. It’s impossible unless you’re going to go the avenue of two-part movies or long epics, neither of which would have worked here.
And maybe that’s part of the problem with “Me Before You.” While Clarke shines here — a far cry from her role as Daenerys on “Game of Thrones” — she’s still a pretty formulaic character. And her relationship with Will is pretty formulaic, too. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl don’t get along. Boy and girl fall for each other.
The seriousness of Will’s condition or suicide wishes isn’t really given the gravitas it deserves. Maybe it’s the fact that we don’t see the inner workings of these characters. All the characters, whether it’s the Traynors or the Clarks, are merely caricatures that we’ve seen before.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t good performances. Dance and McTeer are both accomplished actors, although they don’t have a lot to work with here. “Downton Abbey” alum Brendan Coyle plays Lou’s father, Bernard. He’s definitely underused, as his Downton role always managed to strike chords emotionally. “Doctor Who” star Jenna Coleman plays Lou’s sister, Katrina. It’s a pretty forgettable role. And Lewis was the perfect casting as Patrick, an exercise-obsessed narcissist who is perfectly willing to let Lou stay in his shadow.
But that’s the thing, it’s a talented cast. And “Me Before You” is a good movie. It’ll make you laugh, cry and think. One of its themes is “Live boldly.” It’s a beautiful sentiment, and one we should all practice. Unfortunately, my review is tainted by the fact that I read the book. I’ll be honest about that. I was hungry to see these characters and relationships come to life, but we only got pale spectres of who they could be. That’s not the fault of the actors or Moyes or even first-time director Thea Sharrock.
While I expected too much of “Me Before You,” I still enjoyed it. It’s a delightful film and rom-com with a serious twist. Unfortunately, it’s nothing remarkable and ultimately — despite the best efforts of its leads — the film doesn’t stand out among the other romantic tales that flood the theaters every year.