Skip to main content

I just want to be a man who’s been to a concert with a girl in a red dress.

Me Before You
(2016)

(SPOILERS) Me Before You makes for a surprisingly not insufferable tragi-romance, although that’s largely down to the winning performances of Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin. An adaption of Jojo Moyles novel of the same name, by Moyles herself and directed by Thea Sharrock, this tale of a quadriplegic bent on going through with assisted suicide suffers from the combination of tackling difficult subject matter but making it accessible, with the result that it ends up being just another tearjerker.


Part of the problem is that debut feature director Sharrock has diligently thumbed through the romcom 101 rule book for every single choice or decision. Enormous signs hang over each ringingly obvious heartbroken or affirmative musical cue that can be timed to turn up on the soundtrack every five minutes, most brazenly in requisite by-the-numbers montage sequences. Of the latter, the most insufferable finds Clarke’s Lou Clark, in a bid to produce a “reconsider your options” bucket list showing how liveable life is – look how well that worked out for Freeman and Nicholson –  thumbing through brochures, books and the Internet for activities to distract Claflin’s Will Traynor from his suicide fixation.


Obviously, grouchy Will (“I don’t do anything, Miss Clarke. I sit, and just about exist”) is going to be slowly warmed up by life-loving Lou, and before long he’s showing her subtitled films, trundling around and about, going to the races, to orchestral recitals, her birthday (much to the annoyance of her boyfriend, Matthew Lewis) and even the wedding of his ex, where the two admit their feelings for each other and promptly take a holiday in Mauritius.


But alas, poor Lou discovers Will’s intentions have not changed, and he still wants to head for Switzerland. There’s been criticism that Me Before You romanticises and condones Will’s third act decision and is consequently irresponsible and insulting to all those who live with disabilities, don’t opt to “take the easy way out” and don’t see life as a terrible burden that can only be alleviated by ending it all. That’s a fair position to take if you see movies as morally obliged to advocate the correct and most positive viewpoint in every scenario. Otherwise, it’s ridiculous, and you should tell the story you’re inspired to tell, and trust your audience is mature enough to recognise that one character making the "wrong" decision is not necessarily an endorsement or recommendation to everyone in that situation. Really, it shouldn’t need saying, but it’s the common problem whenever something in the arts is tarred with the brush of responsibility to society as a whole, leapt upon by a media keen to blur the lines between fact and fiction.


For my part, I didn’t take away that Will’s decision as noble or honourable (“I can’t be the kind of man who just accepts this, I don’t want you to miss all the things I can’t give you”), although more emotionally fragile audience members might see it that way. The problem with the movie is that, by its final reel, it has become so sodden with didactic, emotionally bowel-moving dirges, it eschews much resonance at all. Another sugar-coated Hollywood weepie, shamelessly manipulative and heartstring pulling, which eventually becomes a bit wearing.


As noted, however, Claflin and Clarke who make this work as well as it does, and at times they’re so good you nearly forget that you’re being played like a violin. Particularly Clarke, who can come across as a bit wooden elsewhere (Game of Thrones, anyone? Mentioning Terminator: Genisys would be plain unfair) Also on hand are Charles Dance in a surprise nice guy dad role, Janet McTeer, who finds much more in Will’s mum than there is on the page, Jenna “Clara” Coleman as Lou’s sister and Joanna Lumley as a wise soul at a wedding. Steve Peacocke’s also hugely sympathetic as Nathan’s carer.


Watching beautiful people die tragically but gorgeously (Love Story, Dying Young) is a Hollywood staple, and they rarely make particularly good movies, feeding on their intended audience’s most self-indulgent, sentimental impulses, so Me Before You’s kind of lucky that it’s as unobjectionable as it is.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Move away from the jams.

Aladdin (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was never overly enamoured by the early ‘90s renaissance of Disney animation, so the raves over Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin left me fairly unphased. On the plus side, that means I came to this live action version fairly fresh (prince); not quite a whole new world but sufficiently unversed in the legend to appreciate it as its own thing. And for the most part, Aladdin can be considered a moderate success. There may not be a whole lot of competition for that crown (I’d give the prize to Pete’s Dragon, except that it was always part-live action), but this one sits fairly comfortably in the lead.

He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your whole head.

Moonstruck (1987)
(SPOILERS) Moonstruck has the dubious honour of making it to the ninth spot in Premiere magazine’s 2006 list of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time. There are certainly some valid entries (number one is, however, absurd), but I’m not sure that, despite its box office success and Oscar recognition, the picture has a sufficient profile to be labelled with that adjective. It’s a likeable, lightweight romantic comedy that can boast idiosyncratic casting in a key role, but it simply doesn’t endure quotably or as a classic couple matchup the way the titans of the genre (Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally) do. Even its magical motif is rather feeble.

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

Bleach smells like bleach.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)
(SPOILERS) I’d like to be able to say it was beyond me how Clint’s misery-porn fest hoodwinked critics and the Academy alike, leading to his second Best Picture and Director double Oscar win. Such feting would naturally lead you to assume Million Dollar Baby was in the same league as Unforgiven, when it really has more in common with The Mule, only the latter is likeably lightweight and nonchalant in its aspirations. This picture has buckled beneath the burden of self-appointed weighty themes and profound musings, which only serve to highlight how crass and manipulative it is.

You're reading a comic book? What are you, retarded?

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut (2009)
(SPOILERS) It’s a decade since the holy grail of comic books finally fought through decades of development hell to land on the big screen, via Zach Snyder’s faithful but not faithful enough for the devoted adaptation. Many then held the director’s skills with a much more open mind than they do now – following the ravages he has inflicted on the DCEU – coming as he was off the back of the well-received 300. Many subsequently held that his Watchmen, while visually impressive, had entirely missed the point (not least in some of its stylistic and aesthetic choices). I wouldn’t go that far – indeed, for a director whose bombastic approach is often only a few notches down from Michael Bay (who was, alarmingly, also considered to direct at one point), there are sequences in Watchmen that show tremendous sensitivity – but it’s certainly the case that, even or especially in its Ultimate Cut form and for all the furore the change to the end of the story provoked,…

I’d kill you too, Keanu. I’d kill you just for fun, even if I didn’t have to.

Always Be My Maybe (2019)
(SPOILERS) The pun-tastic title of this Netflix romcom is a fair indication of its affably undemanding attributes. An unapologetic riff on When Harry Met Sally, wherein childhood friends rather than college attendees finally agree the best thing to be is together, it’s resolutely determined to cover no new ground, all the way through to its positive compromise finale. That’s never a barrier to a good romcom, though – at their best, their charm is down to ploughing familiar furrows. Always Be My Maybe’s problem is that, decent comedy performers though the two leads may be – and co-writers with Michael Golamco – you don’t really care whether they get together or not. Which isn’t like When Harry Met Sally at all.

You're always sorry, Charles, and there's always a speech, but nobody cares anymore.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)
(SPOILERS) To credit its Rotten Tomatoes score (22%), you’d think X-Men: Dark Phoenix was a travesty that besmirched the name of all good and decent (read: MCU proper) superhero movies, or even last week’s underwhelming creature feature (Godzilla: King of Monsters has somehow reached 40%, despite being a lesser beast in every respect). Is the movie’s fate a self-fulfilling prophecy, what with delayed release dates and extensively reported reshoots? Were critics castigating a fait accompli turkey without giving it a chance? That would be presupposing they’re all sheep, though, and in fairness, other supposed write-offs havecome back from such a brink in the past (World War Z). Whatever the feelings of the majority, Dark Phoenix is actually a mostly okay (twelfth) instalment in the X-franchise – it’s exactly what you’d expect from an X-Men movie at this point, one without any real mojo left and a variable cast struggling to pull its weight. The third act is a bi…

They went out of business, because they were too good.

School for Scoundrels (1960)
(SPOILERS) Possibly the pinnacle of Terry-Thomas’ bounder persona, and certainly the one where it’s put to best caddish use, as he gives eternally feckless mug Ian Carmichael a thorough lesson in one-upmanship, only for the latter to turn the tables when he finds himself a tutor. School for Scoundrels is beautifully written (by an uncredited Peter Ustinov and Frank Tarloff), filled with clever set pieces, a fine supporting cast and a really very pretty object of the competing chaps’ affection (Janette Scott), but it’s Terry-Thomas who is the glue that binds this together. And, while I couldn’t say for sure, this might have the highest “Hard cheese” count of any of his films.

Based on Stephen Potter’s 1947’s humorous self-help bestseller (and subsequent series of -manship books) The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship (or The Art of Winning Games without Actually Cheating), which suggested ungentlemanly methods for besting an opponent in any given field, gam…

I should have mailed it to the Marx Brothers.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
When your hero(es) ride off into the sunset at the end of a film, it’s usually a pretty clear indication that a line is being drawn under their adventures. Sure, rumours surfaced during the ‘90s of various prospective screenplays for a fourth outing for the whip-cracking archeologist. But I’m dubious anyone really expected it to happen. There seemed to be a natural finality to Last Crusade that made the announcement of his 2007 return nostalgically welcome but otherwise unwarranted. That it turned out so tepid merely seemed like confirmation of what we already knew; Indy’s time was past.