I’m glad that in my SECOND WEEK reviewing films, that NOTHING CONTROVERSIAL has been released. Yep, it’s been a quiet one. I got to see a film with Emilia Clarke as the lead actress this week. That was nice. Charles Danse was there too and the obnoxiously handsome Matthew Lewis, who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter franchise. They were full to the brim with post-colonial British charm. Yes sir, it’s all quiet on the Western front. Nothing to see her – okay fine! I saw Me Before You this week and as you may have heard, this film is being protested for its depiction of disabled people. Because of the nature of this debate, I can’t have any kind of meaningful discussion of it without spoiling the film so this is your last chance to leave before I launch into it.
You still here? Good. Let’s get on with it.
The story is that a rich, adventurous, young man called Will (Sam Clafin) is paralysed in an accident. His mother hires a carer for him called Louise (Emilia Clarke). She’s a quirky young, working class woman with a love for colourful tights and awful jumpers. So far so good. She finds out that he plans to be euthanized in 6 months so she sets out on a mission to change his mind by showing him all the things he has to live for. Along the way he reminds her that she must live herself. Okay, bit cheesy but fairly dramatic. He doesn’t change his mind and, telling her he has nothing left to live for, he goes through with it. Oh… oh dear. Yeah, he dies and now I have to talk about the morality of euthanasia on a week old blog with a mustard yellow background. Shit.
Before I get into the politics of representation (oh God why?!) I need to make a few quick comments. Firstly, the performances in this film range from solid to gold standard. Emilia Clarke shines in the lead role, with her ridiculously expressive eyebrows. She was excellent in both the dramatic and comedic elements of the film. The chemistry between her and Sam Clafin is also excellent. This is assisted by the flowing dialogue. On a more negative note, the film’s director, Thea Sharrock, approached this film with a paint-by-numbers attitude. A lot of the shots are pretty, but meaningless in the dramatic parts and have spades of untapped potential in the comedic parts. Clever cinematography can make a good joke great or add a thick layer of charm to an awkward character and its missing from large chunks of this movie.
Sharrock, has come out and said that “it’s a fictional story about how important the right to choose is. The message of the film is to live boldly, push yourself, don’t settle”. While that certainly does come across for better or worse, I think its important to contextualize this story a bit in terms of its genre. Me Before You is a part of that genre of films aimed at women with the soul intention of making them cry. Films like The Notebook and My Sister’s Keeper would be prime examples of this genre, which we’ll refer to henceforth as “tear-porn”. The trouble with tear-porn is that it’s setting out to extract the most tears from you, some times at the expense of the story. Michael Bay does something similar to men except with explosions, slow-mo and Megan Fox.
This is what happened in Me Before You. In the middle of the film, scenes feel like they are stitched together rather than naturally flowing into one another, giving the impression of the film just wanting to hit the beats that are expected of it. To me, this points to that intent on the part of the film makers to manipulate rather than tell a story which would lead me to believe that the characters’ journeys are not priority number one. Indeed the most important thing seems to be the romance between our two leads and can we agree that this really shouldn’t be the case? It splits the focus between the implicit “will they, won’t they?” and this man’s decision to end his life, which if the director is to be believed, is the point of the film. All you have to do to make this a much tighter film is make Louise’s boyfriend not a complete tool and have her in a stable nurturing relationship outside of her job. I understand that the film makers wanted Emilia Clarke’s character to “learn to live” as well. I really do. But when your definition of a good life is as narrow, and wealth reliant, as their’s is then that’s a problem. They seem to say that the only way to live a full life is globetrotting, shopping and being beautiful. The question of euthanization is a very hot topic at the moment and I want to hear the film’s arguments. I get snippets of them but the film makes sure I don’t dwell on them by playing generic sad pop songs… So many generic sad pop songs.
Based on what I’ve seen and deduced I would say that euthanasia was a mechanical component of the film rather than a natural story moment. It is tear-porn at its worst. That being said it has brought to my attention an interesting issue regarding representation. That being whether a minority character represents all members of that minority or can it operate as a unique creation. In most cases I tend to fall on the side that a character is a character, not a representation of a whole social group. It is in how the characters relate to the world of the film that allows us to speculate on the film maker’s attitudes. In this way, Me Before You can be read as either a film that pities normal and disabled people alike or is just plain ignorant.
Overall, Me Before You feels mechanical not emotional, despite the absolute Trojan work done by the cast to change that fact. It mishandles its subject matter but in the process raises questions for future discussion. On a completely unrelated note, next Tuesday I will be posting the first of a series of Special Interest Reviews. These reviews will look at films that I think are interesting, for better or worse, that more people should know about. They certainly won’t be thinly veiled assaults of films I’ve reviewed the week before. I will be reviewing the French film The Intouchables, which is a film about a rich paraplegic man who gets a working class carer and all the shenanigans that ensue. See? Totally different.