Me Before You Parent Review
This is exactly the sort of premise one would expect from a film billed as a romantic comedy, but where the plot actually goes may come as an unwelcome surprise.
Putting me before you sounds rather selfish—and in truth it is. Yet who can blame the handsome and privileged Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) for being a bit too self-centered when he has conquered the business world, basked in the pleasure of travel and recreational sports, and bedded at least one beautiful woman (Vanessa Kirby) all before the age of thirty? Should anyone find fault in him for wallowing in self-pity when an accident suddenly takes all that away and leaves him paralyzed with no possibility of recovery?
After two years of being weak and incapable, Will becomes introverted and bitter. That is when Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) bursts into his sorry world. Overly chatty and excessively sweet, the naïve twenty-six-year-old is desperate for a job, and Will’s devoted mother (Janet McTeer) is desperate enough to hire the former teashop waitress as a caregiver/companion for her despondent son. It’s an odd pairing, however over time Lou’s bright and warm quirkiness starts to melt Will’s dark and icy demeanor.
This is exactly the sort of premise one would expect from a film billed as a romantic comedy. And normally the focus of my review would be to mention the sexual content (there’s some implied sex, shirtless men and plenty of banter), language (a sprinkling of mild and moderate profanities) and substance use (prescription drugs and social drinking). But this is not your usual love story, so where the plot goes next might surprise you.
It doesn’t take long before it becomes apparent that this budding relationship is simply a flowery introduction to a one-sided look at doctor-assisted suicide. If this comes as a spoiler, I apologize. In my defense, the movie’s promotional trailer hints at this underlying theme.
Based on a novel by Jojo Moyes, who also authored the screenplay, this pro-euthanasia story extols the virtues of this controversial practice, which is illegal except in a handful of countries. To create a persuasive argument, Will’s situation is depicted as hopeless. Despite Lou’s growing love, he can never have his old life back again. All of the logical people in the movie, such as his father (Charles Dance) and his physiotherapist (Stephen Peacocke), understand this. These characters give voice to Will’s plan to end his life as being “his right”. The only objectors to his decision are those portrayed as emotional types—like his mother, Lou and a woman with religious sympathies (Samantha Spiro).
Whether intentional or not the issue eventually boils down to selfishness. The question is, who is the guiltiest of this trait? Will, who won’t accept a life with limitations even when Lou offers him a chance at happiness? Or Lou, whose affections are not unconditional enough to support his desired choice?
The script is selfish too. It never entertains other opinions, nor does it ever consider the possibility of creating a meaningful life despite difficult circumstances or tragedies. I can’t help but wonder how long the movie’s bias would go unchallenged if the audience had been reminded of wheelchair-bound people like Stephen Hawking or Franklin D. Roosevelt? As well, the film places a priority on personal freedom (the kind that separates one’s actions from how they might affect others). This is an equally curious inclusion in a story supposedly about relationships.
Because its appearance is so deceiving and actor Sam Claflin has previously appeared in adolescent magnets (Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman) Me Before You is likely to attract teens and young adults looking for a romance. Sadly, the only happy ending it supplies encourages avoiding challenges rather than growing from them and rising above them. For audience members momentarily disenchanted with their own situations, this may be a dangerous message.Directed by Thea Sharrock. Starring Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin. Running time: 110 minutes. Updated August 29, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Me Before You here.
Me Before You Parents Guide
How self-absorbed do you think Will was before his accident? Do you think this attitude might be influencing the way he feels about his present situation? What does Lou do to try to help him remember the good old days? Do her tactics encourage or discourage Will’s selfish tendencies? Do you think Lou’s desire to save him make her more or less selfish where he is concerned?
Even though there is no cure for Will’s spinal cord injury, is there really no hope for his future? Why does he feel more comfortable with ending his life than trying to accept his limitations? If you were counseling someone who felt there was no purpose in living, what things might you suggest to help them overcome this despair? Do you think suicide (assisted or otherwise) is ever a viable option?
The script makes a comparison between Will being tied to a wheelchair because of physical handicap, and Lou being tied to their small town because of finical hardship. Will’s solution is to cut both of them free. Can either of them do that without hurting someone else? Is personal fulfilment more important than the contributions we can make to someone else’s life? What compromises could be considered to help balance these desires?