Me Before You is a rushed to screen tragic love story that had the potential to be a modern classic, but it favoured gimmicks over character and story.
The story is that an out-of-work Barista, Lou, finds a job caring for an irritable quadriplegic rich guy, Will, who used to be an adrenaline junky. He resents his life, and wishes to end it. His family hopes that the cute ex-barista will change his mind. Me Before You is all very by the book, in fact, it’s based on a book, and the filmmakers certainly cut details to streamline the tale for screen. It’s understandable, but in doing so, they reduced the two leads to a man of pomp and bubbly young girl: Prince Charming and his princess.
Lou wishes to pursue fashion. I know that’s what she wants because she told me and she wears zany outfits. It’s fun, admittedly, but it’s a superficial way of getting across her desires; we never see her improvise an outfit. Hell, when her dress rips during a job interview, her solution is to cover it up. It’s nit picky, but I needed something more like 30-second montage of her bringing in her mom’s jacket to fit her; something that demonstrates her supposed passion for fashion—I couldn’t resist.
Because Lou is the witness, the majority of Me Before You is focused on her struggle to make him love life again. The audience is never given any insight into why he wishes to kill himself, apart from the obvious. Other characters expose that he is frustrated, but we don’t see his sorrow in the day to day. The effect is that he comes off like a paralyzed prince charming. Take a film like Fault in Our Stars: The young male love interest is dying of cancer and despite being a hard headed funny man for the entirety of the film, he’s eventually broken at the end by the cancer and we see him as a sniffling kid, broken by an unlucky case of incurable cancer. I personally needed to see Will give up like this. I needed to see a crack in his veneer, something to make him human, in order to make me care.
Barring one bittersweet moment where Will wants nothing more than to sit in his van for a few moments longer in order to emulate the feeling that he just took a pretty girl in a red dress on a date, there weren’t any solid emotional moments for me in the film. Several times over the filmmakers forcibly made a move for my heartstrings. Rather than earn my investment in the story and the characters, they opted to play songs that would resonate with the target audience—which would be me, I guess, considering I have 1975 and Ed Sheeran on my phone… There I admitted it. The effect is that the audience may get swept up in the moment and mistakenly associate the relatively basic melodrama playing out on the screen with the music they know and love. It’s cheap but I can’t fault the filmmakers too much, considering every film does this. Only, when it’s done well it serves to enhance the scene rather than provide a crutch for it. Here’s what I mean.
Spoilers! — He decides to off himself and join the choir invisible. And they used the aforementioned tricks to evoke a reaction, but I felt nothing. They even go a bit over board at the end with a lofty metaphor: A leaf falls from a branch, turns brown and hits the ground: Seasons Change! The Circle of Life! The leafy metaphor acts as a segue between Will’s death and Lou’s Fashion studentship in Paris. The moral, I assume, is to follow your dreams, but it comes with a pretty intense caveat: Make sure that you befriend a rich person first so that they can employ any out of work family members. Oh! And they’ll give a nice nest egg that will pay for your education and get you started in life.
It’s all very Disney—and I don’t mean that as an insult, just a valid descriptor—so, if that’s your thing, check it out. But so long as you’re not partial to subtitles, like Lou in the film, I’d recommend The Intouchables instead of Me Before You. It’s a French film with a similar dynamic; a philanthropist quadriplegic befriends his poor aid worker, only there’s a lot more heart and a lot less kissy kissy.