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

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018) (SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop .

That’s what people call necromancer’s weather.

The Changes (1975) This adaptation of Peter Dickinson’s novel trilogy carries a degree of cult nostalgia cachet due to it being one of those more “adult” 1970s children’s serials (see also The Children of the Stones , The Owl Service ). I was too young to see it on its initial screening – or at any rate, too young to remember it – but it’s easy to see why it lingered in the minds of those who did. Well, the first episode, anyway. Not for nothing is The Changes seen as a precursor to The Survivors in the rural apocalypse sub-genre – see also the decidedly nastier No Blade of Grass – as following a fairly gripping opener, it drifts off into the realm of plodding travelogue.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.