Clarke’s bright star turn lights up ‘Me Before You’
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Written by: Jojo Moyes
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, and Charles Dance
“Me Before You” (2016) - Sunny days do not usually reign over the United Kingdom, and the lack of ample amounts of sunshine can potentially sour anyone’s mood. For Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a wealthy 31-year-old with the rugged good looks of an Abercrombie & Fitch model, he suffers from a steady diet of gloom, but not because of the weather. Two years earlier, a traffic accident left him paralyzed from the chest down, and his parents, Camilla and Stephen (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance), now care for him. Will lives in their mansion in Wales adjacent to Pembroke Castle in the lap of luxury, but without the ability to waterski, jump off of a rocky cliff, run, or simply walk to the bathroom, he feels lost, a shell of the person that he once was.
Enter Louisa (Emilia Clarke).
Camilla hires her to help look after Will from Mondays through Saturdays, 8am to 5pm, but without any formal care worker training, Louisa feels woefully ill-prepared for the job. Fortunately, Will’s full-time nurse, Nathan (Stephen Peacocke), explains that she just needs to be his friend.
Now, writer Jojo Moyes adapted her novel for the screen, and director Thea Sharrock and she bring “Me Before You” to life, but it is the 29-year-old Clarke who brings so much heart and soul to the movie. The camera loves Emilia and her character, Louisa. Almost always bathing in eternal optimism and wearing a radiant smile which sometimes crinkles her eyes nearly shut with happiness, Louisa could lighten anyone’s spirits. Her radiant charm force can only be matched by her offbeat and colorful wardrobe, complete with butterfly blouses, heart-covered dresses and flowery heels, and after months of daily visits, she seemingly never wears the same outfit twice. I might be as fashion illiterate as the next American male, but even I noticed that Louisa’s vibrant apparel matched her engaging personality, and Will gradually warms up to her peachy appeal.
Even though their slow-building romance is soaked with predictability, Clarke’s innocent allure and onscreen chemistry with Claflin help us ignore the familiar storyline. Less familiar - at least to American audiences - are the natural and manmade surroundings that Pembrokesire, Wales certainly offers, and Sharrock does a beautiful job of capturing its natural and manmade surroundings.
Under an unusual multitude of bright days, the rolling and green landscape also carries a stark contrast between the have and have-nots, as an imposing ancient castle props itself above the modest housing below. Not unlike the feudal systems of centuries past, the film highlights the lifestyle contrasts between Louisa and Will’s families. Both households provide love and support to their respective children, but Louisa’s father delivers slight verbal jabs in her direction. He probably does not even realize it, but they seem to contribute to her lack of initiative.
Louisa worked as a waitress at The Buttered Bun for six years, and if not for slow business, she probably would have labored there for 30 more. Will does notice her self-imposed limitations and encourages her to fly away from the mundane and break the cycle of “just getting by”. You see, Louisa’s gifts of kindness, virtue and warmth are (finally) reciprocated by Will in the aforementioned ways, and Louisa responds in kind.
The narrative dances with these exchanges throughout much of the movie, and it hits its best moments when both boy and girl grow as human beings while sharing their genuine love affair. Of course, one problem certainly exists, and it is Will’s paralysis. Will’s physical state of being is non-issue for Louisa, but he views it as a horrible stumbling block from which he cannot figuratively or literally dodge. The film’s third act effectively follows this one-sided argument to one of two possible conclusions, while Will and Louisa continue to show their affectionate harmony.
In addition, Sharrock does not hurt her film’s cause by placing the leads in gorgeous locales like a posh music hall and a tropical paradise. These locations and Will’s paralysis help disguise the fact that a love story between two people from very different backgrounds has already been told in thousands of movies, but – as previously mentioned - I became blind to the similarities because of Emilia Clarke’s bright star turn. Inside or outside the UK, I foresee many sunny days in her future. (3/4 stars)