Here we will review the book and movie of Me Before You. We keep spoilers to a minimum, but some basic plot points are shared. Rebecca’s thoughts are in blue and Chris’s in red.
I have to admit: the trailer for the movie adaptation of JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You kind of turned me off. I hadn’t read the book yet when I first saw it, and it didn’t look too promising to me. ‘Let me get this straight,’ I thought to myself while watching the trailer—‘This super cloying manic pixie dream girl who’s obsessed with pretty dresses and bumble-bee tights concocts a childish Pretty Woman love affair with a sardonic hot guy in a wheelchair, and this is the book that everyone has been raving about? I don’t get it.’
And then I read the book.
While not perfect, Me Before You (the novel) never reduces its main characters to simple platitudes. Yes, Louisa, the main character, does have a scene where she talks about her favorite childhood bumble-bee tights, but not because she’s an airhead who can’t think of anything but herself. Her job is to keep Will Traynor, a depressed quadriplegic, “distracted,” (which she soon learns is code for: don’t let him kill himself), and she’s struggling to find any happy memories to share with him. Yes, she does often present herself in somewhat childish ways—much is made of her over-the-top clownish clothes—but this is a self-defense mechanism which arose from a traumatic memory of being sexually manipulated when she was younger. In short, she’s a three-dimensional person, imperfect but ultimately optimistic.
And Will Traynor, whom I must admit is the character I really identified with, is nothing short of heartbreaking. A formerly very successful businessman—athletic, sexy, full of life; someone born into money who always seemed just a bit too lucky—and now, after being hit by a car while crossing the road, is reduced to being completely dependent on others just to stay alive. He’s forced to live in an annex of his parents’ house in a suburban town famous for the ancient castle that his family happens to own. He’s lost the London apartment, the high-stakes job, the gorgeous girlfriend, everything.
A lesser writer would have given us a lot of obnoxious pseudo-religious moments with Will, having him come to acceptance of his condition quite quickly once his attraction to Louisa reminded him that life was worth living. But JoJo Moyes (who also wrote the film script) is not a lesser writer, nor is she interested in a lot of easily-digestible platitudes. Me Before You, like other entries in the “sick-lit” category that have come before it (The Fault in our Stars, for instance) is there to ask questions, not necessarily provide answers. Like a literary version of that party game “Would you rather?,” it makes us take a good look at exactly what makes our lives worth living, and at what point they would no longer be so.
Louisa is the main character, of course, and her anxiety and desperation as she begins to fall in love with a man who has already decided to check out is the blood the pulses through this story. But for me, Will is the character that really hits home, and that’s largely due to the quality of the writing.
You can’t help but read Me Before You and think, ‘Okay, what would I do if I were Will?’ He’s determined that the life he’s currently living—complete with its non-stop pain (because apparently there are a lot of body pains for quadriplegics, even in body parts they can no longer use), the non-stop humiliations of being dependent on nurses to change a catheter and colostomy bag, the risk of infection that sends him to the hospital several times a year—simply isn’t worth doing anymore.
Louisa is determined to change his mind. But the lesson she needs to learn is that it’s not up to her to decide this for him.
So the question: Is the movie as good? Well, Chris and I saw it last night. And yes, we really enjoyed it. In fact we (and our friends) laughed a lot more than we thought we would and found both leads quite charming. There were several omissions to the plot made in the movie, probably more for timing reasons than anything else, including the bit about Louisa’s youthful negative sexual experience. And while none of the missing bits really affected the story—they were all pieces that didn’t necessarily move the plot forward in the novel so much as provide texture—the overall effect of excising them all did leave the characters a bit less dimensional.
The real difference in the movie is this:
In the book, Will’s illness is depicted pretty graphically. Being a quadriplegic, in case you were wondering, sucks. The muscles atrophy, there’s constant pain and illness. We all remember how Chris Reeve lost his handsome features, his hair thinned, he needed a respirator to breathe. Will (as played by Sam Claflin) is just hot. Despite the actor’s assertion that he lost 40 lbs to play the role, he maintained his tan face, his chiseled cheeks, his windswept hair– this dude is fine (in every sense of the word). He even has pec muscles. All of which makes his resolution not to go on living a little less understandable.
And Louisa, played in the movie by the Mother of Dragons herself, Emilia Clarke– unrecognizable sans wig– provides a nice counterbalance to his energy. Going full gusto on the adorableness scale, Miss Clarke seems determined to prove that she’s more than just a khaleesi; she’s a perky girl with some crazy expressive eyebrows. (Seriously, those eyebrows!)
Chris, what did you think?
I enjoyed the film. Granted, I didn’t read the book, so I can’t compare what was missing from the novel and if there was heart-wrenching moment that I wished they had put into the film. But as a moviegoer just looking forward to a decent story, I was pleasantly surprised. If you’ve read any of my past articles, you know I’m a swords and chainmail girl. There were little swords in Me Before You. In fact there was none, which is kinda surprising considering the film pits Daenerys Targaryen (aka Khaleesi) against Tywin Lannister. (Yeah, there were totally a lot of Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey folks in this one, right?) And I asked Rebecca, “This is a comedy, right?” To which she replied, “Um….yeah.”
Fortunately for me, and many others, the film WAS a comedy. Despite the romance and tragic ending, the film was full of comedic moments. One of my favorites was from Matthew Lewis (who plays Lou’s boyfriend) – a simple look that conveyed so much across the dining table – as his character realized that something was not right with Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke’s relationship. This isn’t a star-studded film, even though you have probably seen many of these actors in previous films, and I appreciated the movie more for it. It was refreshing to see new actors on the silver screen proving that they can carry a film as well as the Tom Cruises, Charlize Therons, Jennifer Lawrences, and Brad Pitts of Hollywood.
Despite what Sam Claflin’s character says though, I would totally live in that adorable British town!
Agree, totally. It was really cute.