Saying the book is better than the movie is a tired, if true, response to a film adaptation of a novel. That said, when the screenplay is written by the author of the novel I hold out more hope for the movie. Unfortunately, in adapting her book, Me Before You, Jojo Moyes abridged much of the detail that made the characters and the conflict compelling and created a movie that is pretty to look at, but ultimately not very moving.
Me Before You is the story of Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke), a newly-unemployed waitress who takes a job as caretaker and companion to Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a wealthy, adventurous man who became quadrapolegic after a motorcycle accident. When Lou takes the job, it is not immediately clear what she has been hired for, but as time goes by, she learns that Will has previously tried to end his own life, and his mother hired Lou in hopes that she could cheer him up, or at least keep an eye on him. Equipped with a wheelchair accessible van; Will’s medical assistant, Nathan (Stephen Peacocke); the Traynors’ fortune; and an abundance of cheerfulness, Lou sets about trying to convince Will to keep living.
In the novel, the budding romance between Lou and Will and her conspiracy to convince him not to end his life take place within the context of Lou’s own relationships and financial problems. In the film, her family’s precarious employment helps motivate the plot, but the importance of the class difference between Will and Lou is downplayed. The result of this change is that Will patronizingly pushing Lou to live more boldly is not as clearly tempered by the way her class status has limited her opportunities, and how he sees his privilege in a new light. The film also trims a lot of conflict in Lou’s relationship with her boyfriend, Patrick (Matthew Lewis), and completely scraps the past trauma that motivates Lou to settle for a small life in a small town. Finally, and crucially, the adaptation neglects the work Lou does to become more independent and educated on her own, when Will is not around. Although the torrent of advertising for the film prominently featured her declaring that she had become a whole new person because of Will, this transformation never really plays out in the movie. Several times, crucial passages of dialogue sound tilted or shallow because the development leading up to them was absent or cursory. Obviously, some elements of a novel must be cut during the adaptation process, but so much of what made the characters round and compelling was cut that the character development is short shifted to the detriment of the entire project.
In the absence of these complications, what is left is a pretty basic, sentimental love story populated by characters who are charming, but not nearly as interesting as they could be. Working with the characters, however, Claflin, Clarke, and the ensemble cast do an admirable job of depicting the depth of feeling between family members and friends. The chemistry between Clarke, Samantha Spiro, Brendan Coyle, and Jenna Coleman resonates so that they look and sound like a warm, funny family. The chemistry between Claflin and Clarke sells the romance of their relationship even when the script falls back on tired tropes.
Despite the narrative problems, Me Before You is beautifully shot and full of visual details that help bring the novel to life. One of the most striking elements of the story is Lou’s love of eccentric fashion, and the movie leans on this quality to convey her big personality. Perhaps my favorite part of the whole movie was seeing the different outfits, comprised of mixed prints and unique shoes and accessories that Lou wore to work each day. This attention to detail and color carries over into the sets, particularly the Clark and Traynor homes as well.
I really enjoyed the characters in Moyes novel and, for readers, the film does a lovely job of capturing the highlights of the novel. Nevertheless, based on its own merits, it is a lovely, well-acted, but predictable and cliched story. I rate Me Before You a tepid 3/5 stars.
Me Before You was written by Jojo Moyes, based on her novel, and directed by Thea Sharrock. It runs 110 minutes and is rated PG-13 for thematic material.
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