Lou Clark is a British Manic Pixie Dream Girl whose main purpose in life is to bring happiness and the will to live to the male protagonist with her naive happy-go-lucky attitude, kooky fashion style, unrealistically positive outlook on life and a constant smile on her face (that in all honesty makes her look more mentally unstable than anything else). If this sounds like a story that we have heard a thousand times before it is because it is true – and Me Before You hardly does anything that would elevate the narrative above any of the films that came before it. It all begins after Lou unexpectedly loses her job at the bakery where she got stuck working for far too long and starts searching for a new employment. Her being from a working-class family and completely unqualified for most of the jobs on the market does not make it easy for her to figure out what to do next – at least until the aristocratic family of the region doesn’t call out in need of an assistant. Unaware how this would change her life forever, she accepts the job and makes it her top priority to teach her patient how to love life again. But it is ultimately Prince Charming who recently suffered a horrible, life-changing incident that comes to the rescue to our Manic Pixie Cinderella.
While the film firmly leads us into believing that it is all about Lou showing Will the meaning and joys of life, You Before Me soon changes the direction and instead shifts into something very different. For it is ultimately him, the aristocratic son, who shows her what life is really about: foreign films, classical movies and exotic travels. He shows her how fantastic and more fulfilling life is among the “cultivated”, richer and privileged – and it hardly comes as a surprise when she eventually ends up falling in love with him (or rather, with the life that he represents).
Now, I do not want to imply that it is impossible to fall in love with a disabled person – but I do want to point out how utterly ridiculous and unnecessary the choice to make the quadriplegic character an English aristocrat was. I would guess that most of the people who were unfortunate enough to have had an illness or an accident that left them in a wheelchair do not belong to the 1%, nor do they have a family who has the means to re-build their entire house and change the stables (!) into a new apartment where everything is easily accessible. While the film would certainly like us to believe that it is about quadriplegia and the impossibly complex question of life and death that such a condition usually brings with it, I do not believe that this is the case here. Him being in a wheelchair seems more like a plot-device that helps Lou’s character to develop and that makes us somewhat more invested into the love story that would never had happened if it weren’t for his unfortunate condition (since it is more than obvious that he would not have spend a minute of his time with this simple, uneducated, overly-nice and naive girl if he would still have been his old, healthy self).
Lou (played by Emilia Clarke) is a plain and uninteresting character that does not do much but spend time with her family and her self-involved boyfriend. She does not seem to have friends outside of this circle of people and she sure does not seem to have any interests in life (besides fashion; the most stereotypical female interest there is). She is also one of the least independent women I have seen portrayed in cinema lately – the kind of a woman who lets men to take her for granted and who never expresses her discomfort or disagreement because she does not want to offend anybody. And it is not until she meets a sarcastic, cynical, well-educated, well-travelled and rich beyond our comprehension Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin) that she reaches her full potential and blossoms into a curious and exciting new woman who leaves her old life behind and moves to Paris. She is a modern-day Cinderella and she needed her Prince Charming to be able to transform from the simple girl that let people walk all over her into a woman that does what she wants. She needed the Prince to be able to escape from her simple-minded athlete of a boyfriend and a family that was keeping her stuck in her unexciting hometown. So, despite the all-women crew that worked behind the camera and despite the novel being written by a woman as well, this movie ends up being just another story where a woman needs a man to succeed in life.
At least they do not get their happily ever after, something that I thought would somehow save this insufferable tearjerker. However, it turned out that even his death could not have saved the film. I do believe that euthanasia should be a possible option for all people who are not able to end their own life – however, this is a very complex matter and a very hard choice to make for each individual; something that the film does not emphasize at all. For Will living is not an option, not ever. I would have expected this decision being approached to more delicately, as I would also preferred the film to focus on his decision-making process and not only on the furious reactions of people around him, unable to accept his (selfish, at least from the film’s point of view) decision. We do not get to know him well enough to know what exactly is it that makes his life so insufferable – is it the awful feeling of being a burden to the people around him? Or is it really just because he cannot return to Paris for his ego cannot handle Parisian women not turning around anymore when he would pass them on the sidewalk? Because he cannot go skiing in the Swiss Alps anymore? Or go sky-diving? And jumping off a cliff? Because if so, this is a shitty reason; he has done and seen more things in his 20+ years than most people will ever do in their lifetime. And they do not seem to commit suicide over that. The bottom line is therefore this: His reasons for not wanting to live anymore seemed superficial and ultimately disrespectful to all disabled people who deserved a better portrayal as well as a more meaningful contribution to the conversations and dilemmas about euthanasia and assisted death.
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Written by: Jojo Moyes (based on her novel)
Starring: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Matthew Lewis
Running Time: 110 minutes