Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 110 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. This romance is meant to elicit as many tears from viewers as possible with its story about a relationship between a wealthy quadriplegic man and the working-class girl who is hired to be his companion and caretaker. Some language and jokes about sex, a few kisses, couples are pictured in bed together, some cleavage, some male shirtlessness, and a major plot involving assisted suicide. The discussions about whether a life spent in a wheelchair is worth living, and the somewhat sexist nature of the main characters’ romance, are both problematic for younger viewers.
‘Me Before You’ presents itself as classier than its genre, but it fundamentally presents an imbalanced central relationship that comes off as quite sexist. There’s nice chemistry here, but the tear-jerking feels manufactured.
By Roxana Hadadi
If you crossed Nicholas Sparks’s mini-empire and “Fifty Shades of Grey,” you would get something along the lines of “Me Before You”—beautiful, wealthy white people dealing with tragic circumstances affecting their love. You’ve seen this movie before, and “Me Before You” doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from the pack.
This latest entry in the weepy romance genre, adapted from the best-selling novel by its own author, Jojo Moyes, has the same medical-centered subplot of so many Sparks’s books/films and the same severe power imbalance of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” At its core, this is a story about a relationship between a wealthy, sophisticated, and disabled man and a beautiful, naïve, and working-class woman—and you can probably guess who teaches whom about love and life. We’re supposed to root for them, but it’s difficult when all of this feels so irritatingly familiar and undeniably sexist.
“Me Before You” begins with Will Traynor (Sam Claflin, of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), an upper-class, gorgeous man with an extremely privileged life. He lives in a spacious apartment, he surfs and rides a motorcycle, he is the head of a successful business, and he’s severely injured in an accident. After becoming a quadriplegic, he withdraws so much from the world that his parents decide to hire a caretaker and companion to lift his spirits.
Enter Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke, of “Terminator Genisys”), a working-class girl from the same town who desperately needs a job. Although she knows nothing about Will’s condition, she’s chatty, charming, and knows how to make a mean cup of tea. With her absurd outfits and bright demeanor, she is thrust into Will’s life, with his mother hoping “It would be nice if he could think of you as a friend rather than a paid professional.”
It’s rough going at first, though. Will doesn’t want to do anything, he rejects Lou’s attempts at friendship, and his health is constantly up and down. But over time, they grow closer, to the surprise of Lou’s parents (who are loving, but dismissive of her) and to the joy of Will’s parents, who think Lou may change Will’s entire outlook on life.
Clarke is fantastically expressive, and Claflin has an endearing, thrilling smile, and together they make a fine pair. But what’s frustrating is how much Will’s character takes charge of their relationship when he decides to finally pay attention, acting as the cultured, superior one: he teaches Lou about foreign film, pesto, classical music, travel, horse-racing, and tons of other things his privileged upbringing (his family owns a castle!) has afforded him.
Yes, his character is quadriplegic (the movie’s conclusion will probably seem disrespectful to those in the disabled community), and over and over again people tell Lou how much Will “needs” to feel “like a man,” and how Lou is going to help him. But what about Lou herself? Everything good that happens to Lou in this movie is because of a wealthy man deciding he knows what’s best for her. And while “Me Before You” has nice chemistry between Clarke and Claflin, this is the kind of romance that pushes the princess fantasy to its reductive limits.
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