Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Me Before You

Believe it or not, this is actually a film I've been looking forward to for a while, ever since I saw the first trailer for it several months back. I'm a bit of a romantic at heart, so I thought it might be fun to go see this movie with my lovely wife on a date night. She isn't always as excited as I am for the films we typically see, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to see a film we were both anticipating. However (and she'll probably be mad at me for divulging this), she had the nerve to go see this with her sister while I was taking an exam. Of course, I may have committed a similar offense in the past... but never mind that. The point is, we eventually did get around to seeing this together in the theaters the next day, and while I hadn't read the book like my wife did, I still had a pretty good idea of what I was in for when the lights went down in the theater.

Louisa Clark is a young lady who hasn't experienced much in her life. She's working at a local bakery in her hometown to support her family (her father struggles with unemployment), and has a boyfriend with whom she no longer has much in common. Things get even worse for the family when Louisa is informed that the owner is closing down the shop for good. Desperate for work, she goes to the unemployment office and is given the opportunity to interview for a job taking care of a young man named Will Traynor. Will comes from an extremely wealthy family, who has been able to give him the best possible care after a devastating motorcycle accident made him a quadriplegic. After being told of his frustration with the steep decline in his quality of life, Louisa is given the task of helping to improve Will's constantly sour mood. Bursting with spunky energy and enthusiasm, she tries her utmost to chip away at Will's icy walls and eventually becomes friends with the young man. However, his injury brought a darkness to his psyche that could eventually consume him, regardless of Louisa's efforts...

This is a pretty charming love story, with two versatile, likeable actors carrying the movie from beginning to end. Emilia Clarke has an incredibly expressive face, and turns in a performance that's a complete 180 from her last big screen appearance, Terminator: Genisys. As for Sam Claflin, I can't believe that I ever disliked this actor. I couldn't stand him in the newest Pirates of the Caribbean film, but completely won me back with his terrific portrayal of Finnick Odair in the Hunger Games films. He's utterly charming as the paralyzed Will Traynor, pulling off the rudeness and charisma of the character effortlessly. Unfortunately, a lot of the character beats were spoiled in the trailer, and that left very few surprises for the actual film. 

However, the film-making was executed in a fairly clever way throughout, which went a long way to making the emotional scenes as powerful as they were. I was particularly impressed with a scene where Will explains how he never wants to go back to Paris. The last time he was there, he was healthy and whole, and doesn't want those memories tainted with depressing wheelchair-bound activities. I thought that was a poignant insight, particularly for this generation that tends to favor poorly-filmed experiences on their iPhone to document major events over their actual memories. Looking back, those memories will forever be as cheap and meaningless as the recording on which it was captured.

Okay, I want to approach this next topic with caution... but most people know about the controversy surrounding this film. To address this, I'm going to issue a SPOILER ALERT from here on out.... Countless well-meaning people have written blog posts purporting that this film has an agenda that promotes assisted suicide. For a while, this retroactively darkened my view of this film, until I realized that this movie is literally preaching the opposite. Not only does everyone in his family try to talk Will out of this terrible decision, but we see that he could have a fairly happy life (all things considered), despite his debilitating injury. It's his own stubbornness and pride that leads to his premature death.

The unfortunate reality is that Will Traynor is an adult, capable of making his own decisions and financially able to make the arrangements without parental guidance or involvement. There was nothing they could do to stop him. This left them them with two options: 1) Abandon their child in his last moments to go through death alone; or 2) Be present and beside him for the rest of his life, even if you disagree with his decision. All three of these characters would have regretted it forever if they hadn't been there as Will passed on, and I don't think we're ever supposed to be okay with his decision.

This movie isn't about whether Will was right or not, but it's about what he taught to Louisa before that decision was made. The Me Before You title doesn't refer to the perceived selfishness of Will's decision, but rather the contrast between the person Louisa was before meeting Will Traynor, to the globe-trotting and chance-taking woman we see at the end of the film. It's a very interesting title, and for me, it doesn't have any more of an agenda than Romeo & Juliet's final pages. Perhaps a more downbeat ending would have emphasized this, but I think the filmmakers wanted to focus on the positive influence Will had on Louisa instead of the tragedy.

Ultimately, I wouldn't dream of calling this movie perfect, but it's a thought-provoking story about choices in life and how each of us deals with the ups and downs over the years. The acting is great across the board, and I thought there were profound moments that elevated this over the typical romantic dramas Hollywood tends to release. Still, I'm so conflicted about the film (and it doesn't help that many of the romantic elements are a bit rote) that I can't get entirely behind it. As such, my star rating is a little lower than it probably should be. I'm going to give Me Before You a very solid three stars. You should definitely go see it, if only to appreciate life a little bit more... which is what this film is really promoting.

ME BEFORE YOU is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material