While many people are exhausted of the typical “rom-com” flick, Me Before You brings a breath of fresh air to a genre comprised only of seemingly look-alike films with predictable outcomes.
The film follows the unlikely relationship between quirky, enthusiastic Lou Clarke (Emilia Clarke) and paralyzed, moody Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). While Lou focuses on supporting her family through any means possible, Will must adapt from his life as a wealthy banker to life as a quadriplegic due to a tragic accident. They meet when Lou, after being fired from her previous job, accepts a position as Will’s caregiver.
The juxtaposition of Will and Lou initially seems improbable. Her colorful disposition, mirrored by her vibrant wardrobe, seems incompatible with Will’s brooding and disapproving demeanor. But when Lou learns Will is so dissatisfied with his current state that he is contemplating assisted suicide, she sets out to prove to him that life is worth living to the absolute fullest. After Lou’s many failed attempts to communicate with Will, he finally reciprocates conversation and inquires about her life. He discovers that she, too, has not been living to her full potential. While she does have a running-obsessed boyfriend, Patrick (Matthew Lewis), he seems to care more about cutting calories than spending time with her.
“You only get one life,” Jojo Moyes, author of the novel Me Before You, wrote in the book. “It’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible.” The film adaptation of Me Before You exemplifies this platitude; one of its key themes (and marketing hashtags) is “Live boldly.” Lou eventually becomes the narrow ray of sunshine peeking out of the clouds during an exceptionally stormy day, although, initially, she too struggles with following Moyes’ words of wisdom.
As a result, Lou begins spending the bulk of her time and energy bettering Will’s outlook on his life, as a means of preventing him from choosing assisted suicide. There has been great controversy concerning Will’s fork-in-the-road decision: should he end his life even though he seems to have much to live for? The right to die is a fundamental subject of the film, and Will’s history of constant near-death attacks begs the question: how satisfying is his quality of life when having to live in this manner?
Nevertheless, the question of the right to die adds a unique and relevant layer of depth that few romantic comedies possess. Similar to The Fault in Our Stars and A Walk to Remember, Me Before You presents a love story facing serious medical concerns and numerous relationship-testing hardships. Yet, its focus on euthanasia, a medical issue that is rarely addressed in the media, gives the film more substance and edge compared to typical dramatic romance films.
Romantic comedies should contain some elements of humor to balance out otherwise overly cutesy moments, and the script of Me Before You contains many humorous, “laugh out loud” moments. Lou’s constant klutziness and awkwardness has the audience hysterically laughing out loud while applauding the funny banter.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for humor is the light-hearted tension between Lou and Will. As both continue to learn about each other, you cannot help but chuckle at their inherent differences. One of the funniest interactions occurs between Will and Lou’s boyfriend. The men are drastically different, yet both have feelings for Lou. Their not-so-subtle hostility provides many hilarious lines of dialogue.
What makes this film even more engaging are the skills of the actors involved, who truly embody everything their characters stand for. Clarke is widely known as Daenerys Targaryen, the “Mother of Dragons” in Game of Thrones (GoT). Lou, who is wacky yet endearing and wears her heart on her sleeve, is the opposite of Clarke’s serious and practical GoT character. This demonstrates the immense flexibility of Clarke’s acting skills. Additionally, Claflin owns his critical role as an intelligent young man trapped in an immobile body. His inherent frustration seems tangible, which produces true empathy from the audience. Clarke and Claflin are truly a Hollywood match made in heaven.
However, the lack of Patrick’s character development, despite the ample amount of screen time he receives, is one area where the film is lacking. While he is supposed to be unlikeable, adding a bit more depth to his otherwise flat character would continue to distinguish Me Before You from other cookie-cutter romantic comedies with predictable archetypal roles, such as “the bad boyfriend.”
Perhaps this tactic is utilized to highlight why Lou and Will are ultimately the superior couple. The blatant onscreen chemistry between Clarke and Claflin truly makes Lou and Will’s love for each other palpable to the entire audience. Lou continues reminding everyone that no matter what cards life deals you, you should never dwell on a bad hand. Instead, make the most of it and play the bad hand as best you can. Love might not conquer everything, but it certainly does a fine job of making life’s challenges a bit more endurable.