It was exactly what you would expect it to be; a squirmingly cringy, heart-breaking cheese galore of a film. The cast: star-studded to the point where I spent more time trying to figure out where I’d seen everyone from than actually paying attention to what they were saying. The plot: a ridiculously hot, rich, young guy (Sam Claflin) living life to the full, decides not to ride his motorbike to work and instead gets hit by one in an ironic twist of fate, becomes incurably tetraplegic and is confined to the annexe of his parents’ home, pretty young carer (Emilia Clarke) comes along in the attempt to turn his morose mind away from his suicide.
The cinema was female territory, an army of girls’ night outs, gradually flooding as the film wore on. In spite of the horrifically let’s-state-the-obvious speech and multiplicity of unlikely events, a combination so guaranteed in this impossible-romance genre of film that I hardly need to give examples, I did nevertheless want to blub by the end, although forced myself not to give the film the full satisfaction of a complete waterfall.
This emotionality was made ever more impressive by the fact that the main characters and indeed the general premise of the film rather irritated me. Firstly, Emilia Clarke’s character, Lou Clark, although intended to be loveable from the outset, really was quite annoying. Too much of a try-hard, too cheery, too awkward, too quirky – in any other situation I’d be understanding of any one of these qualities but all at once and it was like being hit by a fluffy pink sledgehammer. Another minor point which I feel compelled to point out is the miraculous improvement of her wardrobe over the course of the film. At the beginning shapeless yellow woolly jumpers and Princess Leia buns dominated the screen, having been subtly swapped for fitted crisp shirts and skirts and luxuriously let-down hair by the end. A sly development of character through some sly filmography, but I was not fooled.
Will Traynor, Claflin’s character, was equally irritating in his contemptuous attitude towards everything, but at least this was forgivable owing to his situation. As it was glaringly obvious from the beginning that the couple would end up together, the first few scenes between them felt like a farce; him being an unshaven frowning grump disdainful and rude to unnervingly chirpy her, and one hour later lo and behold they’re making out on the beach sweetly clean-shaven and smiling. Granted, the progression of the story did contain a few laughs, and it was after all meant to be a somewhat sickly-sweet romance, but perhaps part of me was hoping for something just a little less obvious.
The ending at least was a relief, SPOILER he died, and if he hadn’t, per say he suddenly could walk again, I would have upended my popcorn and stomped out of the cinema in a protest at the sheer Hollywoodness of making the impossible possible. I strongly believe it is important not to romanticise illness, and through his death at least the film followed this statement through. Whilst she succeeds in giving him the glimmer of a reason to live, this glimmer is still incomparable to the joy of his former life. There were moments in the film when I almost forgot his paralysation, when we see the beautiful young couple indulging in the whims of the upper class; going to the races, attending a Mozart oboe concerto, escaping abroad on an exotic holiday. But there is no escape from paralysation, regardless of age, class or looks. When he rejects her efforts and decides to follow through with the suicide I couldn’t help but feel that he comes across almost as selfish, which is of course entirely unreasonable – the power he has to decide over his death is one of the few powers he has left as an immobilised person.
The film raises the ongoing issue of assisted suicide – in 2015 both the English and Scottish parliaments voted against proposals to change the law in favour of legalising assisted suicide, despite polls showing more than 75% of the public supports such a proposal (BBC News). The willingness of the public to engage in the ongoing debate is reflected in the increase in popularity of literature and film concerning such issues and portraying the realities of life under illness or disability. In the past few years alone there have been several blockbuster hits; The Fault in Our Stars, The Theory of Everything, the French film Untouchable to name a few, raising awareness and made even more relevant this year as the government refuses to back down on cuts for disability services.
Me Before You does not quite hit the mark in showing the struggle of everyday life as it focusses more on how relationships are impaired by disability than the disability itself, especially in that Traynor benefits from a seemingly unlimited supply of money to cater for his needs. Although it may not gratify the activist in me the film is however successful in its purpose as a romantic sob story, and my overriding scepticism of various aspects aside, I cannot deny the characters do become gradually more endearing, and the film gradually more upsetting. Possessing an aversion to clichés does somewhat impair my judgement of the film, but even I have to admit that clichés exist for a reason. It was clichéd, and I cried.
Image credit: hypable.com
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