Thursday, January 5, 2017

Me Before You: A Review


Every generation needs to have some sort of faux love story that has to have Death Itself as the third wheel.  We've had Love Story, we've had The Fault in Our Stars, and now we have Me Before You.  I am amazed by Me Before You: amazed that this was written not by a sappy Millennial or Millennial wannabe who thinks he is the voice of that generation (looking at you, John Green), but a woman in her forties.  I'm amazed that what is pushed as this beautiful love story that inspired a passionate fanbase to where a sequel was demanded by them (After You) is in reality a horror film. 

Most of all, I'm amazed that such a rote, paint-by-numbers story, that appears to have been created out of a template, could be considered good by anyone, but there it is.

Plucky, Upbeat Girl (Emelia Clarke) has recently lost her job at a coffee shop.  With few to no skills (apart from a cheerful disposition), she finally manages to find one: being the companion of Bitter, Wealthy, Good Looking But Quadriplegic Man or QM for short (Sam Claflin).  He is angry about life because after a motorcycle accident he is now unable to be the active, mobile person he once was.  Plucky, Upbeat Girl, with her tween-inspired outfits, attempts to cheer up our Dour Hunk, but nothing doing at first. 

Soon, however, her perkiness worms its way into him, and they soon start bonding.  This doesn't sit well with Plucky, Upbeat Girl's Clueless Boyfriend (Matthew Lewis), but it does bring hope to Bitter, Wealthy, Good Looking But Quadriplegic Man's parents, Their Lordships (Charles Dance and Janet McTeer).  Plucky, Upbeat Girl 'accidentally' overhears Their Lordships discuss QM's plans to go to Dignitas in Switzerland and end his own life in six months.  Now, it's up to PUG to save QM's life to have him rediscover the joys of life.

Not an easy task given that QM's former fiancée is now about to marry his former best friend, who even invite him to the wedding!  Still, he goes, metaphorically rising to the occasion. Soon, PUG discovers thanks to QM  such things as art-house films and classical music (though the less said about horse racing, the better).  After he nearly dies as a result of the cold air from the wedding turning into pneumonia, they decide to go to Mauritius along with the surprisingly hunky nurse (Stephen Peacocke, not to be confused with Captain Stephen Peacock from Are You Being Served?).

There, QM and PUG spend as intimate a time as a man paralyzed from the neck down and a girl can (even if earlier, it meant ending her relationship with Clueless Boyfriend). However, despite how much QM has fallen in love with PUG, he still is going to go through with it, convinced that it would be wrong to condemn her to a life with him and he wishing his life would be as it was.  After all, if he has no mobility, he has no life.

She's upset that her efforts failed, but despite that in the end she goes to Switzerland to be with him at the end.  Some time later, she goes to Paris under QM's instructions, with an inheritance that will allow her to start again and 'live well'.

As you probably noticed, I didn't offer to give names to anyone.  Names aren't necessary, because Me Before You doesn't need them.  The characters are types, one-note, pretty standard for low-rent writing.  The descriptions they were given pretty much says all you need to know about them.  Jojo Myers, who adapted her own novel, has surprisingly little subtlety when dealing with these figures.

A good (or bad) example is when PUG and Clueless Boyfriend go to the movies.  PUG has just discovered foreign-language films (in this case, the French film Of Gods and Men, about a group of Catholic monks who are martyred by Islamic extremists).  She was enthralled and emotionally moved by the film, and at the cinema they go to, she spots another foreign-language film (All About My Mother).  She tells Clueless Boyfriend she wants to see it, and CB is puzzled, asking if she suddenly speaks Spanish.  His response is to go to the ticket seller and say, "Two for the Will Ferrell".

It's so patently obvious what's going on here, handled so clumsily.  First, she pushes the 'clueless boyfriend' bit more by showing he is both uncaring about PUG (note how he dismissed her wants so quickly) but also shows his lack of intellectual curiosity and general uncouthness (by going to a lowbrow comedy over the art of Pedro Almodovar).  Further, who tells the ticket-seller they want "the Will Ferrell"?  Would have been easier to ask for Dumb and Dumber or something like that.

Clueless Boyfriend, being a cliché, is beaten down again and again as to be almost parody.  He promises a holiday with PUG...which centers around his fitness regimen in Norway.  His birthday gift to her is a pendant...with his name on it.  Myers is clearly signaling to the audience that this uncouth, self-centered, and thoughtless character is not worthy of PUG, but that the handsome, elegant, wealthy, handsome man in the high castle is.

This is so typical of so many movies where the woman is involved with a man when she meets "The One", and almost all writers go out of their way to paint these men as such dolts or so bland that it justifies the woman leaving for a better man.  Me Before You just goes them one better by painting him as particularly clueless and self-absorbed.

Not that the two leads are any better.  Clarke's PUG never came across to me as sweet, kooky, endearing or charming.  She came across as an idiot, a grown woman with the mind of a 12-year-old (and the wardrobe to match).  It isn't just her generally hideous outfits that show what a dimwit she was (what grown woman pushing 30 wears butterfly-print blouses AND butterfly bows in her hair).  It's her general demeanor: her eternal pluckiness that grates on you.

She must be considerably dumb to insist on parking the van in the mud, which would make maneuvering the wheelchair extremely difficult at the racetrack.  Don't the British have reserved parking spots for disabled people?  Someone pass the Britons With Disabilities Act, stat!

If I think on it, no one is particularly good in Me Before You in terms of acting because the script doesn't require anything of them.  They aren't real people (why would Her Ladyship hire someone who clearly has no skills and even manages to rip her skirt during the interview).

Leaving aside the non-performances, what really disturbed me about Me Before You, more than anything, is the idea behind it: that somehow a disabled man who was formerly abled is somehow right to want to die because his life isn't what it used to be.  This serious subject of euthanasia is essentially a plot device for a 'romance' story.  Moreover, the story appears to say that QM won't have a good life because of his disability.   Despite having a woman that loves him, financial security (the family owns a bloody castle!) and supportive family, QM still insists that he will be a burden to PUG and everyone else.  Still angry about where his life is, the conclusion that he and others would be better off dead is appalling, a bizarre endorsement of selective executions.

IF say, he had agreed to live and then gotten pneumonia and died, THEN it would be a tragic love story that I might rally around.  However, I cannot endorse a film that wants you to cheer on someone killing themselves merely because they are paralyzed. 

I wonder what Christopher Reeve would say about Me Before You... 

Therefore, why am I not ranking this film lower?  Probably because I found worse films than Me Before You, though probably none as morally vulgar as it.  The fact that it has a fanbase that loves it, the fact that it was so predictable and poorly written, makes me worry about the state of literature today.     



  1. Excellent review! I heard good things about the book before the film came out, and read it on a whim. And I thought it was good, as far as a romantic novels go... until he actually killed himself of course. That legitimately made me angry. Especially after he admitted to her that he was actually happy with her. Maybe they played up the "burden" part in the movie more, but in the book his main point was that he wasn't happy. Except he was. It was so forced. And it could have been so nice if that one thing had been changed. If like you said he died tragically, or if he'd just lived. It might not have been great, but still a whole lot better than... morally vulgar. Ugh. That's the perfect way to describe it! I can't believe anyone would want to send the message that this film has. Detestable.

    1. Thanks.

      I showed "Me Before You" to someone who'd never heard of the book/movie & who is at most, agnostic. He was puzzled by how a story where the romantic male lead wants to kill himself (and thus, get away from the romantic female lead) could be considered 'a love story'.

      I think people focus on the fact that these two lovers are separated forever, not on how that separation happened.


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