Y’all remember the movie Me Before You (2016), right? It came out the summer of 2016 and every women’s fashion magazine was talking about it. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing it at that point. It was later critiqued by the #StarringJohnCho campaign for being a super-white film (a valid critique, if you ask me). I then became somewhat more interested, but I guess the thought slipped my mind until recent days.
Well I finally watched it over the weekend. I remember the main controversy surrounding the movie had to do with the commentary on disability, and how the movie seemed to imply that it’s better to die than to live with a disability. I feel like that critique is also valid; while watching, it did feel as though this rich white boy was whining about missing things about his “old life” that, on average, almost no one gets to experience anyway (water skiing? Working a job that manages companies?? Being engaged to a manic pixie dream girl??? Living in an apartment of that size in fucking London????).
I think what bothered me the most about the film actually had to do with the emotional labor of the feminine protagonist, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke). In the movie, she is hired by Will Traynor’s (Sam Claflin) mother, presumably to be a sort of day nurse for her son, who is quadriplegic after an accident. It should be noted, Louisa just lost her job at the cafe where she used to work, and she lives with her family in her home town. She was basically desperate for a job, and this one happened to come along (a feeling I relate to a little too well). The family that hires her, the Traynors, are unimaginably wealthy people who own a castle. Yes, a castle.
Louisa, who goes by Lou, finds out Will is planning to go through with physician-assisted suicide and believes it is her responsibility to keep him from doing so. At this point, I was like…wait, what? Why would you take on that responsibility?? Literally no one asks her to do this. Mr. Traynor alludes briefly to the fact that Mrs. Traynor may have hired Lou to fulfill some of Will’s emotional needs, which Mrs. Traynor does not deny, but at no point do either of the parents explicitly say that Lou is expected to keep their son from killing himself. (I felt it was also problematic that they hire Lou to fulfill emotional needs, but I can’t put my finger on why. At least she was getting paid for the labor, but it is labor that I feel like the family specifically hired a woman to do. Why wasn’t Nathan (Stephen Peacocke) enough to keep Will happy?). In this sense, I feel like Louisa is fulfilling some sort of weird white-savior complex/feminine gender role in which she believes it is her duty to interfere where, in reality, she doesn’t have to. In some ways, I felt like this was tied to class as well. As a poor, young woman, she had little control over other factors of her life, so she projects her own worth onto whether or not she can keep this man alive. If she was a smart employee, she wouldn’t. And if her employers weren’t manipulative assholes, they would maybe make the distinction between their expectations of her and their hopes for their son clear to her from the beginning. I felt like portraying her this way is egregious because of the kind of unrealistic expectations it puts on feminine labor. (Is it not a well-known abuse tactic for men to say they will kill themselves if a woman leaves?)
I felt like the movie also suffers from a general category that I refer to as “pacing problems”. I find that a lot of romantic comedies suffer from this problem; I just wish movies in general were more realistic about human communication (or maybe I’m just picky and I like people to be direct with me?). I don’t remember either character explicitly say anything about their feelings to each other. It is just assumed at some point (After Will attends Louisa’s birthday party? After they go to Will’s ex’s wedding?) that the two like each other. Maybe. Kinda. And that Louisa is doing all this fancy stuff for someone she is romantically interested in (taking him to horse races! Concert! Fancy vacation!), and no longer just because she is employed to do this. Like, sure, Will and Lou say some romantic shit to each other, and maybe I’m just being hella asexual, but they could just be saying these things as friends? I know people who say very intimate, romantic things to each other as friends? It is a possibility?
Because of this lack of directness and super-heterosexual assumption-projection, it felt to me as though most of the action doesn’t happen until the movie is nearly over. That’s when Lou and Will kiss for the first time (I guess confirming what has still never actually been said–that they have feelings for each other?), they kiss for the second time, they kind of break up, and then right before Will dies, they make up, all within about 30 minutes in a movie that’s 110 minutes long. It was strangely noncommittal. Instead of talking about their purported raging boners for each other and not doing anything about it (the way they do in the Twilight series), Will and Lou were more inclined to wax philosophical about life before and after Will’s accident. Rather one-sided, considering Lou probably has a lot to worry about as a 26-year-old who has only worked one job before she started working for the Traynors.
I digress. I do think Emilia Clarke deserves some recognition for being a moderately talented actress. In Game of Thrones, she’s a terrifying Daenerys Targaryen, and for this role, she becomes a slightly anxious, chirpy, naive woman in her mid-twenties whose entire closet seems to come from Modcloth. It’s quite the about-face, and I think Clarke pulls it off gracefully, despite the shortcomings of the role itself, which I blame the writers for more than the actors. I wish I could see Sam Claflin in a more fleshed out role. I’ve only seen him in The Hunger Games, in which he plays a small role as Finnick Odair, and now Me Before You, in which I still think he doesn’t have much of a role. He’s a grumpy dude, and then he’s an in-love dude. With the exception of the disability, this is basically how dudes always are and in no way showcases acting. I feel like I can’t comment on Claflin’s potential because I haven’t actually seen it yet.
In short, Me Before You is somewhat entertaining as a collection of scenic shots of small-town England. To me, an accurate description of the plot would be “Two people have a fling while doing rather indulgent things together, and then one dies and the other has to move on.” The film did not convey anything deep or even particularly romantic in my opinion. I’m even somewhat let down by this film poster. Emilia’s character is supposed to wear this gorgeous, low-cut sleeveless red dress. In the film, this dress never appears; Lou wears a knee-length red dress with sleeves to the concert and a low-cut, sleeveless blue floral print dress to the wedding. Perhaps I’m petty, but it was such a let down! I was so waiting for that sexy red dress and it never showed, not unlike the spunk in this movie.