Judging by the questions I get after watching a movie, “So did you cry?” seems to be the new standard upon which melodramatic tales and mushy love stories are judged.
In the case of Me Before You, the guy seated beside me was tearing up and sobbing into his non-existent handkerchief even before the sad scenes started rolling.
But once they started, they didn’t let up.
And neither did he.
On the waterworks scale, it must be an unequivocal two thumbs up in his book.
There is indeed a lot to like about Me Before You. Based on the 2012 novel of the same title by Jojo Moyes, this romantic drama directed by Thea Sharrock sees Emilia Clarke (of Game Of Thrones fame) star as Lou, a small-town girl down on her luck who clinches a job as caregiver for rich man’s son Will (Sam Claflin, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) who, after an unfortunate run-in with a motorcycle, is now a paraplegic.
Reduced to a shadow of his former self, he is condescending and sarcastic, determined to make Lou’s job in that huge place he calls home a living hell.
Undaunted, she pops up each morning on his doorstep in one crazy eccentric outfit after another, armed with a perpetual, almost giddy exuberance for life and radiating joy in spades.
Her cup runneth over, that’s for sure.
His, he is convinced, is empty.
Me Before You is a paint-by-the-numbers story in so many ways: Girl meets Boy, they get off to a rocky start, but then eventually even the hardest of hearts will melt and love will conquer all. Maybe.
But on just as many counts, it would be unfair to say that this is all there is to this movie.
Behind the happy colours of Lou’s wardrobe and her persistent effervescence, at the core of Me Before You lurks a darker subject – assisted suicide. It is certainly not a very in-depth treatment of the topic, but it is an important part of the story nonetheless.
At any rate, the winning point of this movie for me was not the story or the storytelling, which did feel a little choppy towards the end, but the distinctive characters and the talented cast that brought them to life.
Clarke’s Lou and her irrepressible zest for life is a delightful contrast to Claflin’s more subtle but excellently-played, brooding Will with his sharp wit and even sharper tongue.
Will’s parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance), caught between their love for their son and what they believe is right, are perfectly depicted as well.
Although Lou and Will share a lot of screen time (and great chemistry), the clear protagonist here is Lou. And boy, does Clarke step up her game. When she appears, everything around seems to shine just a little brighter.
More often than not, such an animated and upbeat character ends up grating on my nerves, but Clarke manages to pull off a version that is so genuinely lovely and likeable that she really is the star of the show.
(Her amazing eyebrows, which she somehow coaxes to be even more animated than the rest of her character’s dramatically expressive face, come a close second.)
Despite the tear-jerker moments, Me Before You manages to make the happy, funny scenes from Lou and Will’s earlier run-ins the most memorable parts of the movie. And perhaps it is precisely this uplifting celebration of life – and living – that is the greatest gift of all.