When it comes to romance movies, the only thing better than a happy ending is an ending where one of the beautiful young lovers dies (but not of something gross). Knowing this, “Me Before You” dangles both possible outcomes in front of us, turning the question from “Will they or won’t they (have sex)?” to “Will he or won’t he (die)?” The answer isn’t obvious, like it usually is in romantic dramas — it really could go either way — but the film suffers by bringing up deep issues that it can’t address satisfyingly.
Points for chemistry, though. Emilia Clarke (from “Game of Thrones”) plays Louisa “Lou” Clark, a kindly, quirky-dressing working-class girl who takes a job caring for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a wealthy and handsome young man who was paralyzed in an accident two years ago and now sits embittered and embearded at his family’s estate in the English countryside. Lou’s vaguely defined duties boil down to keeping Will company and cheering him up (he has a nurse to handle his physical needs), and she’s well-suited to the work — chatty, effervescent, with eyebrows that are more expressive than many actors’ entire faces.
Will doesn’t want to be cheered up, though. He wants to be grumpy and sullen, especially when his former girlfriend gets engaged to someone else (Will’s best friend, the movie tells us after the fact). Lou has a boyfriend of her own, a boring, insensitive runner named Patrick (Matthew Lewis), who’s jealous that she spends so much time with Will (i.e., that she has a job) and who obviously will be out of the picture eventually. (But not soon enough. The obviously-wrong boyfriends never leave these movies soon enough.) The question is, can Lou help Will regain his will to live?
Written by Jojo Moyes from her own novel and directed by first-timer Thea Sharrock, the movie ambles through its formulaic tropes well enough not to be an embarrassment, anyway. Clarke and Claflin are sweet together (you will not be surprised to learn that he warms up to her) — which, in a romantic drama, is about half the work done right there. It falls apart in the third act, when Will’s potential interest in assisted suicide becomes the focus. Such a weighty, intimate subject, with strong arguments on both sides, merits discussion and contemplation, and the film hardly gives it any. (One suspects the book is more thoughtful.) Thus, when the characters arrive at the film’s emotional climax, we’re not there with them, having been left behind in the emotional journey some ways back. Is there anything more frustrating than a movie that wants to make you cry but fails to finish the job?
C (1 hr., 50 min.; )