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With: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Matthew Lewis, Stephen Peacocke, Jenna Coleman, Brendan Coyle, Samantha Spiro, Vanessa Kirby, Ben Lloyd-Hughes
Written by: Jojo Moyes, based on her novel
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material
Running Time: 110
Date: 06/03/2016

Me Before You (2016)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Lou and Cry

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I think I expected Me Before You, which author Jojo Moyes adapted from her own bestselling novel, to be like a sappy, syrupy Nicholas Sparks story, full of dimwitted plot twists and grand tragedy. The delightful thing about it is that it's actually half entertaining and half enjoyable. This is mainly thanks to Emilia Clarke, best known as the white-haired, dark-eyebrowed Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones. Here she's Louisa "Lou" Clark, a silly, sweet, slightly dorky, happy-go-lucky girl with a perpetual positive outlook.

Lou lives with her working-class family and her out-of-work father, and must work to help support them. When she loses a longtime job in a cafe, she soon lands another, as a caretaker for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a handsome, wealthy quadriplegic. The movie opens clumsily, telling Will's story; he was a daredevil, extremely active and fearless, a world-traveler, and a great lover; but he gets hit by a motorcycle while crossing the street in the rain. Director Thea Sharrock shows this in the most pedestrian (pardon the pun) way possible, making us want to shout at the screen: "look both ways before you cross the street!"

The relationship between Lou and Will goes the way you'd expect, with her trying awkwardly but very hard to raise his spirits, and him brooding and letting fly snappish, withering comments. That is, until they begin to warm up and fall in love. It is rather difficult to resist Lou's charms, and it's easy to see how Will could also succumb. I loved a scene at Lou's birthday party, wherein Will has surprisingly shown up, much to the annoyance of Lou's boyfriend, the self-centered fitness nut Patrick (Matthew Lewis, known as the buffoonish Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter movies, now grown up into a surprisingly handsome and chiseled fellow).

In the scene, Lou's grandad gives her a scrapbook, which she receives joyously. Then Patrick gives her a pendant with his name engraved on it, which she receives with reserved kindness. Then Will gives her a gift that she receives with rapture, something she'd mentioned to him earlier that he remembered. It's a wonderful moment, and it subtly shifts all the relationships in the movie to a new degree.

Fans of the book already know where all this is going, however. It's a risky storytelling choice, somewhat shocking and controversial, but with only a few exceptions, director Sharrock smoothes it all out, making it as vanilla as possible. I couldn't help thinking about how a Nicholas Ray or a Douglas Sirk might have handled this melodramatic material, using spatial relationships, colors, backgrounds, and locations to deepen its significance. Sharrock chooses a shallow, pretty presentation, relying on her actors to carry all the weight, as well as a few too many pop songs and frilly montages. Clarke is up to the task, and while Claflin -- best known for The Hunger Games movies -- is fine, his role is particularly difficult and he doesn't really give it the extra bit it needs; he mostly falls back on his looks.

While the other actors here are interesting, and they include Vanessa Kirby, Janet McTeer, and Charles Dance, none of them are onscreen long enough to portray more than a single character trait, which is, of course, to share their opinions on or advice for either Will or Lou. This is all a way of saying that Me Before You might have been a profound movie, but it instead goes for an easy marketing niche, copying a template that has previously proven successful with female moviegoers of a certain age range. What no one on the marketing team expected was how good Clarke is in her role, and how she nearly singlehandedly keeps it all going. It's the kind of breakout role that might have resulted in an Oscar nomination, if the movie itself had been better.

Warner Home Video's serviceable Blu-ray release features only a few short extras, a studio-made "novel to screen" featurette, a 2-minute gag reel, and about 6 minutes of deleted scenes. It also includes a bonus digital copy.

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