After six years of service, Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) is dismissed from her job as a waitress at a local cafe. With her father jobless and a family to maintain, she takes responsibility and does not stop until she finds a new gig. She ends up working as a caregiver for William Traynor (Sam Claflin), a former banker left paralyzed from the neck down after getting hit by a motorcycle two years back. Although their relationship begins in an antagonistic note, with his sarcasm and cynicism not sitting well with her vibrant and positive outlook in life, they soon become friends and start to develop feelings for one another. The problem is that he has already made up his mind about euthanasia, given how his medical condition will no longer improve according to his doctors. She, on the other hand, will not give up until he changes his mind. Will they end up getting their happily ever after?
It’s fun seeing an ensemble of actors get together and try to convince you that they can play different characters altogether. In this film, we have Daenerys Targaryen, Tywin Lannister, Finnick Odair, and Neville Longbottom. They manage to give decent portrayals, even though there is still that lingering association with the characters that made them famous. Acting-wise, there really is nothing much to expect here, although they do get to evoke the intended emotions from time to time. This is a romantic comedy after all, and not everything should be Oscar bait.
The backlash from the disabled community all over the world is a bit of an overreaction. While we can argue that most moviegoers nowadays belong to that demographic devoid of critical thinking, there are still some left who do know how to distinguish fact from fiction. Not just because the main character, who happens to be quadriplegic, contemplates euthanasia, it does not necessarily mean that the film is sending out a message that everyone like him is a burden and should do the same thing. If anything, they are just presenting one point of view not representative of the entire population. To say otherwise is an insult to cinephiles out there who do have common sense.
However, we do acknowledge that mercy killing is indeed a tricky topic to discuss. This all boils down to personal choice and the right to decide on how you want to live your life, or in this case, end it. The film tackles the topic but does not really contribute much to the discourse, which is just apt because it is a love story after all. If you have not seen it yet, Amenabar’s El Mar Adentro, a Spanish film starring Javier Bardem, deals better with the issue, focusing on its societal repercussions. On the contrary, Me Before You deals more with the effect of that decision on other people, especially family, in effect making it a more personal approach, stripping it of the political and the moral aspects.
As for the plot, this is as formula as formula can get. This is not the first time that we are seeing a love story anchored on the prospect of death and letting go. The film gives its take on the premise and gets to tug some heartstrings along the way. Perhaps the weird thing about it is the misleading title. In the end, this story is all about Louisa, not William. In the end, her efforts to change him actually changed her, and every memorable moment she thought she’s doing for him ends up being something he does for her. It’s ironic like that, but it strengthens their thesis that we can’t change people, but we can make enough of an impact and have a positive effect on one another, a live for the moment mantra that the current social order tends to neglect.
There is this one scene where the two attend his ex-girlfriend’s wedding and then he decides to give her a ride on his wheelchair, dancing while Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud is playing. It’s a beautiful sequence because it shows you that no matter how hard the times, there can always be room for a little fun if and when you are with the right person. If he wasn’t paralyzed and their paths crossed, would he even notice her? They do engage in a conversation about this, and it makes you realize that most often than not, such occurrences are circumstantial at best.