Me Before You: Of a bitter-sweet love
Not since ‘Love Story’ have we seen a movie with such a peculiar, endearing mix of tenderness and sass. The similarity continues; like Erich Segal, who wrote the manuscript as well as screenplay of Love Story, author JoJo Moyes of Me Before You too has done the same.
Me Before You begins just like the book, indeed, the screenplay stays fairly true to the original story. Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) finds herself out of a job and goes along to the job agency to find another occupation. She is sent off to the Traynors, who are looking for a caregiver for their son William Traynor (Sam Claflin) who met with an unfortunate accident that has left him a quadriplegic. Louisa is a chirpy chatterbox by nature, while Will, suddenly finding himself confined to a wheelchair, is morose and sullen most of the time. However, he slowly begins to thaw and the two become friends.
Louisa has been hired for a period of six months, the significance of which is explained later; Will, who had previously attempted suicide after the accident, has promised to give his parents six months, after which he would go to the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland that assists in euthanasia. Louisa overhears a conversation between Will’s parents and learns this harsh truth. She discusses this with her sister Katrina (Jenna Coleman) and the two hatch a plan to keep Will entertained and happy with activities that interest him, so that he will give up the Dignitas idea. Somewhere in all of this, his ex girlfriend and his best friend decide to get married and Will asks Louisa to go with him to the wedding.
Seeing the growing closeness between the two, no matter that Will is a quadriplegic, Louisa’s boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis) breaks off with her. Conscious of the fact that the six months are running out, Louisa whisks Will off to Mauritius for a break, accompanied by his nurse Nathan (Steve Peacocke) Thankfully, unlike the recent trend in Bollywood movies, there is no footage given to hotel and airline promotions!
On their last night here, Will and Louisa admit their love for each other, but she is shattered when he remains implacable in his resolve to go to Dignitas after this holiday. She runs away from him and, once back in England, refuses to go to care for him anymore.
But of course the cinematic adaptation must slightly deviate from the book in order to make it visually appealing. Since it would be boring to see the main lead in a wheelchair for the entire duration of the movie, we have a video of Will that Louisa sees on his laptop, where he’s diving into waters and mountain climbing, et al. Will’s mother Camilla (Janet McTeer) comes across as fragile and brittle, whereas in the book she is harsher. Some dialogues have been swapped around, for instance, it is Louisa who says that the bucket list of things to do may make Will change his mind, a line attributed to her sister in the book. The ending has been slightly altered too; while it is usually he who asks her to: “tell me something good” now she asks it of him and he tries to sing the same Molahonkey song back to her…a bitter-sweet moment. A scene has also been written in, where a broken Louisa sobs to her father (Brendan Coyle) that she has failed in making Will change his mind.
Cinematography by Remi Adefarasin is a moving delight of narrow, winding, village streets, of gently falling snow, of the impossibly blue skies and glorious English countryside that only a summer in England can bring on. Editing by John Wilson is brisk and taut. Music by Craig Armstrong falls soft on the ears and is used mainly as background scores.
After watching Me Before You you get the feeling that nobody else but Emilia Clarke could have done justice to this role. What an absolutely delightful performance; she is a natural and slips charmingly into the character of Louisa who is petite, disarming and sometimes silly. The biggest grouse I have though, is that there is this quirky thing she does with her eyebrows, which was cute in the beginning but which the director has exploited to the hilt so much so that it becomes Clarke’s stock expression through the movie and you find yourself wanting to shake her by her shoulders, go smooth her brow and put it all straight! There is an underlying rapport between Clarke and Claflin which comes across beautifully. Claflin manages to do a decent job with just his eyes, his voice and those flashing dimples, although sometimes his facial expressions are a bit wooden, especially in the scenes where he has to show physical suffering, or in the introduction scene to Louisa, where he tries to scare her with the impression of a paralysed and speech-impaired person, but fails dismally.
Thea Sharrock as director has done a competent job, ably abetted by a screenplay by the original writer JoJo Moyes, including most of the dialogues that do not veer from the book. However, a couple of jarring notes are struck in the cinematic rendition: Firstly, the pace of the movie could be considered slow by those who have not read the book; for someone like me, who has, I felt the story had leapt out of the pages and come true to life. It was easier to identify with the movie having read the book and this is particularly true when it comes to explaining what Dignitas is and what it signifies. This point has not been well brought out in the movie and may possibly leave some of the audience baffled as to what’s going on. It could also invite criticism that those who are disabled should just be allowed to die. This is a sensitive point and surely the whole fulcrum on which the story is based – and the sensitivity is missing from the movie.
Overall, I’d recommend you go watch Me Before You. To learn about a different kind of love. And acceptance. And giving.
*This Review of Me Before You is written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India