Movie Review: ‘Me Before You’

Romantic tearjerkers are a grand chick flick tradition. Even when they’re half-baked, there’s still something so satisfying about leaving a theater with red-rimmed eyes after two hours of emotional cleansing. But every once in a while, that formula is held to a bit of a higher standard, aiming to earn your tears rather than just forcibly extracting them through whatever means necessary. Me Before You, based on Jojo Moyes’ best-selling novel of the same name, is one of those films.

That’s not to say that Me Before You does anything particularly original. In fact, it rarely strays from the rules dictated by the genre. We’re still subjected to the sugarcoated montages and a pop soundtrack that’s just a little too on the nose. But if you go to these sorts of films for the aforementioned catharsis, just know: this will put you through something more closely resembling a hardcore emotional detox. And for that, Me Before You already feels like a cherished staple of the genre.

After being laid off from her long-time job at a local café that’s now closing, Louisa is hired by a wealthy family to be the caretaker and companion to the handsome Will Traynor (The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin), a man who was recently paralyzed from the chest down due to a motorcycle accident. Wheelchair-bound and reliant for the most basic of things, Will is sullen, bitter and depressed – a far cry from the dashing, adventure-seeking man he was before. Louisa has no experience as a caretaker, and right off the bat it’s clear that Will wants nothing to do with her. But in the classic fashion of most romance films, the more time the two spend together, the more Louisa’s endlessly cheerful presence starts to melt Will’s cold demeanor. But when Louisa finds out that Will is planning to travel to a legal assisted suicide facility in Switzerland to end his life in the coming months, she sets out on a mission to remind Will that life is still worth living.

Emilia Clarke, who’s best known for playing “the Mother of Dragons” on HBO’s Game of Thrones, is something of a revelation. While she rarely deviates from her stone-faced persona while playing Daenerys Targaryen on the hit show, here, she’s all wide smiles and eyebrow work outs. The joy reflected on her face is infectious. If anyone can lift Will’s spirits, it’s Clarke’s Louisa. Likewise, Claflin is a big-time leading man in the making. With a smile that can melt hearts, he taps into Will’s charm and frustration (and even his initial snobbery) with delicacy. Sidestepping the opportunity to overact at every turn, whenever he speaks, we want to lean in closer to make sure we don’t miss a single word.

Me Before You is not bogged down by the topic of sex. There’s an undeniable sexual tension between Lou and Will (one that’s heartbreakingly acknowledged in one of the film’s best scenes), but instead of being a non-stop parade of “when will they finally kiss” moments, the film forces us to rely on something far more innocent and pure. Louisa mentions a silly pair of bumblebee tights she loved as a child and Will surprises her with them; Will takes Louisa for a spin on his chair during a wedding, the two embracing and joking as couples dance around them. No matter how conventional the scene or gesture, it’s hard not to find a smile slipping onto your face. Because even if Me Before You is a romance very much in the same vein of Nicholas Sparks, there’s an electric emotional authenticity here that’s completely absent from Sparks’ recent movie adaptations. When Will tells Louisa, “You only have one life. It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible,” it feels like less of cliché, and more like the God’s honest truth.

Rating: A-

Me Before You is now playing in South Florida theaters. For showtimes, click here.

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