Friday, 16 December 2016

Movie Review: Me Before You (2016)



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Time to look at another rom-com, and at this point, I’m more than willing to welcome the presence of a genre that is so consistently sweet to the point of diabetic as this. Not only does it mean that I can get away from the frankly depressing films that I have yet to watch for this year, it also means that I can take a break from any heavy topics… or, at least, that’s what I thought. This is Me Before You.


The plot: Recently fired worker Louisa (Emilia Clarke), needing a stable job to help keep her family fed, takes up a job taking care of Will (Sam Claflin), a former banker who was paralyzed in a traffic accident two years earlier. Initially being turned off by his incredibly cynical view of the world, the two start to connect and enrich each other’s lives and a possible romance starts to bloom. Unfortunately, they may not have long to let it advance, as it seems that Will has already set in motion a plan to end his pained existence with dignity.

I get the feeling that I have completely missed the boat when it comes to properly getting into Game Of Thrones. I say this because, between this and Terminator: Genisys, I am now totally incapable of taking Emilia Clarke seriously. This is easily her most bubbly performance yet, showcasing an almost superhuman knack for sweet nothings and comedic awkwardness that makes her a good fit as the female lead. Claflin, having already shown a certain sardonic charm in films like The Hunger Games series, does excellently as this rather morbid and snarky romantic lead. He helps make what could have been an unlikeable character more in line with other romance films adapted from novels (insert Nicholas Sparks and/or Stephanie Meyer joke here) into someone that even I want as a boyfriend. Jenna Coleman, AKA worst New-Who companion to date, as Lou’s sister is serviceable, Charles Dance and Janet McTeer as Will’s parents do great things with the heavy emotional weight that they’re given, Steve Peacocke as Will’s nurse rounds off the main trio very well, and Matthew Lewis… God, it makes me feel old seeing him this grown-up in a movie. That’s probably not helped by how, despite how well he plays the role, he is still one of the more egregious examples of the disposable love interest that I’ve seen in quite a while.

As a romance, this is quite lovely in all honesty. Clarke and Claflin’s chemistry is very strong, managing to make it comfortably awkward when needed without going into the realms of unwatchable. Probably just the film buff in me, but the fact that the point when they finally start to get along is thanks to a combination of discovering foreign movies and Michael Bay's Armageddon was honestly kind of sweet. What ends up helping this is that, between Lou and Will, we have that whole ‘opposites attract’ cliché at work but in a way where it doesn’t feel forced. Will’s snarking about Lou’s fashion choices matches nicely alongside Lou bringing a bit of sunshine to Will’s drum-n-bass lifestyle. That said, this film isn’t immune from the trimmings of the genre, as we not only get the disposable love interest, and an extremely irritating one at that both in the flesh and how thinly he’s written, as well as the third-act break-up that will never cease to annoy me.

So, what about its place as a comedy? Again, for the most part, it’s quite good since it leans heavily on the main couple and their banter. Being adorable forgives a lot of potential sins, apparently. However, it does start to clash a bit with how the story handles its “every rom-com needs a gimmick” gimmick with Will being disabled… and how he wants to end his own life. The fact that, at about the halfway point, it turns into Lou desperately trying to change his mind in that regard adds a very sickly aftertaste to the more awkward bits of comedy. Like the day out at the horse races, for instance, which despite a couple nice moments, feels wrong to watch because of how heavy a stake the plot puts in these moments working and yet intentionally not. But then again, for as much as I’ve complained about chick flicks failing to accept the harshness of reality, the fact that this is as morbid as it is is kind of a good thing… even if others don’t necessarily see it that way.
The next part of my look at the film will be dealing with issues that heavily tied into the film’s plot, which means *SPOILERS* from here on out, but I’ll try and keep it from explaining the ending in its entirety.

This film has fallen under some criticism for its treatment of those with a disability, spoken with as much vitriol as my own diatribes concerning films that badly portray depression and/or autism. Now, maybe it’s because of my closer attachment to the latter than the former, but I don’t see this as anything all that offensive. If someone wants to say that I have no right commenting on this as an able-bodied man, fine, but here’s how I see it. Will isn’t obnoxiously portrayed as a burden on his family and carers, nor does the film take a stance that he is better off dead than disabled; instead, it’s only him and his character that perceives itself as such. One of the only benefits that comes with living with depression is accepting that there are fates worse than death, and for some, that’s how life can feel. Will planning his own end, at least as how this film depicts it, honestly falls under the usual grey areas involving euthanasia and, given the character we get and his rather dry attitude towards the world, I can understand why he would wish to do so. If this film, like others I’ve covered in the past, went out of its way to depict his life as one giant hardship for the people around him, as well as them actively wanting him to do this, that’s one thing. Here, it’s just one person making a decision that he believes is right for him and whether that decision is “right” will probably vary for audiences depending on their stances on the issue of euthanasia. Me personally… well, I don’t think I would have a right to say he can’t decide what to do with his own life if this was outside of fiction. After shit like Lights Out, a film that actually did say that you’re better off dead than with depression, this is really small potatoes.

Conclusion: Ignoring the petty gripes protesters had about this being a disability snuff film (that’s a bloody quote, just FYI), this is a perfectly serviceable rom-com. Hell, because of how dark the subject matter can get, it makes for a quite refreshing watch that allows for actual drama and comedy to come forth. The acting is good, the chemistry between our love interests is even better, the writing makes a decent balance between sweet and bitter, and the willingness to discuss tougher topics, while occasionally clashing with the sweeter tone, gives this a lot more merit than other novel-adapted rom-coms that I’ve seen of late. It’s better than Pokemon The Movie: Volcanion And The Mechanical Marvel, as the writing here is not only a few shades deeper but the emotions it channels hit just that much harder. However, as this film does have its tonal clashes at times, its overall entertainment value isn’t as high as the laugh-a-minute My Scientology Movie.

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