“Me Before You” – warm fuzzies and sugarcoating make for a sweet romantic trifle

me before you onesheetNutshell: There’s no denying that Clarke and Claflin have onscreen chemistry.  And this “who knew they were made for each other” story strikes all the right romantic notes.  But there’s a whitewash to Will’s quadriplegia that turns this sweet modern story into a fairy tale.  Bring tissues; this tale was made for weeping.  An ability to overlook the fact that money makes dealing with illness much easier won’t hurt either.  Sure to be a Ben & Jerry’s & Chill pleasure when this film hits streaming.  Grade: B

“Can’t you slow down?  I’m wearing the wrong bra.”

I’m gonna keep this review short and sweet, just like this film.

Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but with out the annoying crap.  She dresses like I would if I gave zero fucks, and it is AWESOME. (If Emilia rocks a 9M, costuming better put those shoes on lockdown.  Just saying.) Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is an adventure seeking playboy whose life got derailed when he got hit by a motorcycle and became a quadriplegic two years ago.  When Lou gets canned from her bakery job, she gets placed as a caretaker for Will.  It’s a six month temp job…because Will is planning on ending it all after he’s given his parents the six month wait-and-see they’ve asked for.  Naturally, they fall in love, and Lou is determined to show him that there’s a reason for living.

Now before you get all bummed out because of Horrible Health Stuff, let me put your mind to rest.  There’s not much horror in Will’s situation, outside of what’s going on in his tattered psyche.  All of the day-to-day real life stuff is either painted as cute (she shaves him! Feeds him!) or is handled off camera. The focus of Me is the bond that develops between Lou and Will, not Will’s prognosis.  Even though it is a heartbreaking one.

That there’s a bond between these two is never in doubt. But the director has such a light touch, whisks away so much of the unpleasantness of chronic illness, that all emotions get watered down as a result. Is life worth living in a wheelchair if your health is so poor that every day could bring the end? Could the difficulties become bearable if love is in the picture? These questions are skirted, and that’s a shame. Really digging into these ideas would have made this a deeper, more meaningful film.  Hey, a straight up sweet romance is fine too. But it could have been a film that sticks with you, rather than a lovely diversion you reach for when this hits Netflix.

Claflin and Clarke give amazing performances, and their off-screen status as goofy pals shows through on screen. It’s also good to see Neville Longbottom (fine; Matthew Lewis) as Lou’s exercise-addict boyfriend, Brother Numsay Charles Dance as Will’s dad, Mr. Bates Brendan Coyle as Lou’s dad, and The Impossible Girl Jenna Coleman as Lou’s sister Treena.  Casting talented folks that I already know and adore helped me settle in, no doubt.  And the fact that Will’s family is absolutely filthy, stinking rich helps push aside the idea of not being able to manage such a devastating injury. We’re talking they live in a castle that has the castle their family lived in centuries before within walking distance.  Crazy, stupid rich.  (That also helps Lou push aside Will’s problems as she tries to get him to see the beauty of life; there’s a licensed caregiver that takes care of the figurative and literal heavy lifting.)

Speaking of sweeping things to the side, the climax of the film is also off camera. That feels like a cheat, and it is. But having the story play put this way is a whole lot more believable – and truer to the characters – than a maudlin happy ever after that would never play out in real life.

But still, I liked the story. Will isn’t a Magical Invalid, in the vein of insipid films like Love Story. He’s angry. Devastated. Done with life. That a love story addresses those feelings is a wonder. That they get it right, even with the emotional photoshop, is even more amazing.

Love love? Dig in.  Enjoy the idea of love having no impediments beyond the physical, and enjoy.  Kleenex NOT optional.  Unless you’re dead inside.  Don’t be dead inside.

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