A qualification before I get started here; I’m generally not a fan of “tear-jerkers,” which is the kind of film that this new movie from MGM and New Line Cinema is being touted as. I saw The Notebook in the theater and haven’t seen a single Nicholas Sparks book-to-film ever since. I saw Million Dollar Baby in the theater, was impressed enough to buy the DVD, but have never watched it. I saw Moulin Rouge in the theater and sobbed openly in my car afterwards; it was 15 minutes before I could even drive home. The joy that pervades that film is about the only thing that got me to watch that DVD. Same with Titanic. I’ve seen The Age of Adaline once, and won’t see it again. I avoided The Fault in Our Stars altogether. My heart’s a big one, but sensitive too, I’m afraid, and getting it ripped out at the end of a movie is not often my idea of “entertainment.”
Any tears that may have been jerked from me after this film, though, were quickly swallowed up by outrage as I later put together its thematic undertones, its provocative climax, and its title, which turns out to be a particularly insidious twist on a much more common–and heroic–bit of romantic phraseology, and discovered what the filmmakers here could actually be championing.
As with all love stories, this one starts with two people, and if you follow Hollywood’s traditional take, they’re about as mismatched as a Barry Manilow ballad would be in the soundtrack of a Mad Max movie.
One is Will, played by Sam Claflin (Finnick for you Hunger Games fans), a self-absorbed richy who’s led a spoon-fed life indulging his every pleasure until a tragic accident paralyzes him from the chest down and confines him to the family castle (literally). There, he sits in his motorized wheelchair and self-piteously contemplates what he feels should have been while refusing to deal with what actually is.
The other is Louisa “Lou” Clark, played by Emilia Clarke (Danereyes Targaryan for you Game of Thrones fans), an effervescent bundle of joy and freakish fashion sense who seems to find the gold even in a family situation where she’s 26, still living at home, and has just lost her job, which largely helped support her mum and dad, a guy who hasn’t been able to find work in months. In desperation, Lou takes a job advertised by Will’s parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance, another Game of Thrones alum) to be Will’s “companion,” and there you have it; the perfect couple–obviously (at least in Hollywood).
From here, and for about 95% of the rest of the film, we follow the typical beats of just about every movie romance; he finds her idiosyncrasies interesting, then charming; she finds his stand-offishness challenging, and of course, his looks adorable. He endeavors to expand her horizons, she shows him that life can still be lived, in spite of his confinements. She breaks up with her current, ridiculously clueless boyfriend (Matthew Lewis), and the two fall in love; a future of promise seems at hand.
This is all very well-done. Claflin and Clarke have a marvelous chemistry. It’s particularly fun to see Clarke, the fierce and indomitable Mother of Dragons, transform herself into the irresistibly bubbly Louisa, who’s also so short that she has to scootch herself forward in the seat just to get out of a taxi. And her smile is an absolute scene-stealer.
But of course, lurking around throughout the plot are signs of dangerous waters ahead, and when the waves finally break, their monstrous implications unfortunately crush the story’s goodness like a tsunami, and the emptiness and anger remains even as the film’s epilogue tries to neatly sweep it all under the rug.
“You can’t approach that topic in a throwaway manner on film.” said Me Before You author and screenwriter JoJo Moyes in a recent interview. She was actually talking about a traumatic scene from her book that never made it into the movie, but I wish she’d thought as carefully about the staggering implications of her story’s theme as played out in its ending and quantified in its title and, perhaps, reconsidered.
Let’s hope you got away with it, Ms. Moyes; that the mobs of Millennial women that are making your film an over-performing box office hit and given it an “A” CinemaScore (an 81% female audience on opening night, 72% under age 35) are doing so because they adore the actors and/or their performances or love Louisa’s goofy outfits or the romance of castles and star-gazing on the beaches of Mallorca while sitting in Sam Claflin’s lap, and not because of what you tried so hard to distract us all from there at the end; the apparent real meaning of that “interestingly” twisted title. Because if that’s why these legions of young women are flocking to see this, the consequences could literally be lethal.