Claflin and Clarke turn cliche romance into dramatic masterpiece

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Claflin (left) and Clarke (right) give winning performances in the romantic tear-jerker, Me Before You, based on a novel.

For the past few years, it felt as if the ending of each blockbuster romance could be predicted based on its first few scenes. A man meets a woman, they fall in love, they have an issue and they reconcile. If not that, a tragic ending seemed inevitable. Though filled with cliches and tear-inducing scenes, Me Before You shocks the audience with one of the main characters’ final choice and many were not able to get up from their seats until well into the credits.

Me Before You is based on a novel of the same name written by Jojo Moyes. It tells the story of Will Traynor, a wealthy quadriplegic man in his 30s who lost control over most of his body—save for his head, neck and limited movement of his fingers—after getting hit by a motorcycle on a rainy day. Bitter and unable to accept his new life, he is under constant medical attention and his parents are doing all they can to make him happy.

Louisa Clark, on the other hand, comes from a lower middle class family who relies on her and her sister’s income to get by. Her quirky outfits consist of bright colors and somewhat mismatched patterns, most notably a pair of emerald heels that made her look like a “leprechaun drag queen.” After working in a cafe for six years on a low wage, she finds out that the owner is shutting down the place. In order to take care of her family, she goes to a job center and, several attempts later, finds herself on the Traynors’ doorstep dressed in her mother’s old suit with no experience in dealing with quadriplegics. Somehow, she gets the job.

The dramatic tone of the movie occasionally becomes comedic thanks to Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin’s portrayal of the two characters. Though the latter was known to portray flirty and caring characters, including that of Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games, seeing the mother of dragons dressed in fuzzy sweaters and dresses covered in butterflies and hearts was shocking. After a while, her acting skills—down to her impressive control of her eyebrow movements—made it obvious why she was picked for the role.

For the most part, the movie follows some well-known cliches; Lou was hired to keep Will company, but her attempts at being friendly are met with sarcasm and cold remarks. After two weeks of handling his bad moods and antisocial behavior, she finally speaks her mind and gains his respect. Soon, she becomes the first person to make him laugh since the accident.

They spent their days together, watched foreign movies, shared happy memories from their childhoods and, unsurprisingly, end up falling in love. In all this time, Lou tries to prove to Will that life is still worth living. Her efforts reach varying levels of success. When Lou suggests taking Will and Nathan, his trainer and medical caretaker, to a horserace, she makes things awkward immediately when Will’s wheelchair gets stuck in mud and she calls other men to lift him out despite Nathan’s protests. Later, she causes a scene with a restaurant worker who refuses to let them in when Lou is unable to produce a VIP badge. When the argument between Lou and the worker gets more desperate, Nathan points out that Will has had enough, and they leave before the day is over.

The romance between the two seems to blossom when Will invites Lou to his ex-girlfriend and old friend’s wedding. After Lou gets a talk from a mutual friend and has a few drinks, she and Will dance in his wheelchair and roll out of the wedding to share an intimate moment.

The movie gained a lot of criticism for its negative portrayal of quadriplegics. Social media users and news sites were quick to criticize Will’s negative outlook and the implication that quadriplegics’ close ones would be happier if they chose to die. Their arguments were fueled by the fact that so few lead roles are given to quadriplegic characters and the idea that Will’s story may prompt others in his situation to think more negatively of being quadriplegic.

After reading the novel, however, one becomes keenly aware of how much Will had to suffer. He had constant pains, muscle deterioration and strain that came with sitting in one position for an extended period of time that required over a dozen medications per day to treat, which ultimately caused even more pain.

Lou notes early on that she is able to tell how much pain Will is constantly in by the movement of his eyebrows and forehead, even if he tries hard to hide it. While it may not provide a counterargument to negative comments, it helps explain some of the actions that the lead characters took in the movie.

The movie does a fair job when it comes to staying loyal to the content of the novel. This could be credited to the fact that Moyes also wrote the script on the movie. However, the novel is still worth a read as it delves into important details and actions that were not portrayed in the movie. For those who want to know what happened to Lou after the movie, a novel titled After You was released in 2015.