When my daughter was little a little girl, the one fairytale I refused to read to her was Cinderella. I never really gave it much thought or had a problem with the story until I had a daughter of my own and began to think about it in a different way. Because Cinderella was so very powerless and only gained power over her circumstances after some dude came along and “saved” her – this made me think perhaps this was not a positive message for a child, male or female, to be listening to without a lot of follow up discussion on the subject. Cinderella’s life was crap before the Prince showed up and after she met him everything was roses and sunshine and unicorns and rainbows and goodness; or at least that is what a child would assume from “…and they lived happily ever after.” The most complicated aspect of their relationship was him finding the woman who fit the glass slipper. Huh! What would that story be like without the Prince? What else could Cinderella have done to empower herself and lift herself up from or get out of her situation? Why did she need a man and magic to do that? I didn’t want my daughter to think that life and love and men and women worked that way. Anyway, it never sat right with me, and that’s why I enjoyed Me Before You.
Louisa (played by Emilia Clark – Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones), is a small town girl who loses her job and needs a way to make money to continue to help support her struggling family. A job caring for recently paralyzed Will Trainor (played by Sam Claflin – Finnick Odair from the Hunger Games films) presents itself. Because jobs are scarce in this little town and the salary is generous, Louisa accepts the job, falls in love with Will, and commences to bring some measure of joy into his otherwise dreary, angry, bitter life. Similarly to Prince Charming, Will is wealthy and even lives in a castle; but initially there is nothing charming about him. Louisa has to work to get Will to open up to her and once he does both of their lives are divided into two parts – Me After you and Me Before You – because neither of them will ever be the same again.
Me Before You is a sort of anti-fairy tale because it doesn’t shows love in a standard “boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married and live happily ever after” scenario. There is no “happy” ending here, love does make things better, in a sense, but does not “conquer all,” and nobody completes anybody. Based on a book by JoJo Moyes, this movie looks at the ideals and ideas we have about “love” versus what love really is, the majority of the time, outside our imagination and fantasies, in real life. Generally in real life, love – contrary to what we are fed – is not magical, can be complicated, takes the work of willing participants, takes commitment, is not always easy, is not always fun, is not always fair, is not always happy, even; and if you’re not happy with yourself, another person’s love cannot or will not make you happy. Me Before You destroys the illusion that all anybody needs is someone to love to make everything “alright” in life. Love is a powerful force, but with or without it, problems still persist and love does not “cure” anything really. And that is okay, because sometimes all love has to do is simply just “be.” Me Before You is about learning to expressing a different kind of love; love that allows people to be exactly who they are, agreeing to disagree, and supporting one another through those disagreements, even when it is hard as hell to do so; the tougher parts of love.
The ending is realistic. Everybody does not win, everyone does not get exactly what or who they want the way they want, and no one rides off into the sunset on a horse, or some other fairytale ridiculousness. Will does help to save Louisa, in a sense, but unlike Cinderella, she came to the table with her own skills and tools so that she was able to help save herself as well.
Despite the rather deep subject matter, and the presence of a paraplegic (almost guaranteed to bring down the tone of almost any movie), Me Before You is told in a light manner. There is some humor and there will be a couple of tears, at least. It finds the balance of being a sweet movie that is neither too syrupy nor sappy. Emilia Clark, Sam Claflin, and the supporting cast do a great job, even if Emilia’s knitted brows got to be a bit of a distraction at times (They are very expressive!).
Me Before You earned 8 out of 10 “bloops”. It is a good movie worth seeing, and whether you see it in the theater or wait for it to come out on cable, don’t miss it. Billed as a “romantic drama” (how often do you hear THAT description?), there is definitely something unique and refreshing about it.