Oh, it’s just another manic pixie totally-unqualified-to-do-her-job girl meets medical-cute with a hot rich young hunk who is not adjusting well to life as a quadriplegic and wants to die. But she will help restore his joie de vivre with her kooky wardrobe and goofy adorableness, right?
Based on the bestselling novel by Jojo Moyes and set in a country — the UK — where nonrich disabled people are suffering cuts to the government benefits that help them eat, pay rent, and get around, this miscalculated romantic dramedy wants us to feel sorry for the formerly athletic, once freespirited Will (Sam Claflin: The Huntsman: Winter’s War), who has only his doting parents (Charles Dance [Pride and Prejudice and Zombies] and Janet McTeer [Fathers & Daughters]), a physical therapist (Stephen Peacocke: Hercules), his new sorta-nursemaid/companion Lou (Emilia Clarke: Terminator Genisys), and an apparently bottomless fortune to get by with. Now, I know that life confined to a wheelchair has its challenges, but no one is in a better position to cope with them than Will is, and surely quadriplegia alone is not reason enough to justify suicide. Yet the film is coy about the complex physical and psychological problems that someone in Will’s position might experience: we get nothing more than a few vague allusions to pain and depression that never really sound more unmanageable than the general unhappiness everyone experiences once in a while. But honest grittiness would interfere with the glossy romance, wouldn’t it?
The best that can be said about Me Before You is that it accidentally holds up Lou as a naive twit, because presumably she is witnessing the significant misery that Will is suffering that is withheld from us, and though she has absolutely none of the skills her work helping someone like Will would require, we’re supposed to understand that she is deeply empathetic. The worst that can be said about this movie is that it is pathetically simplistic about the deeply morally complicated issues surrounding assisted suicide and right-to-die ethics. If I were a disabled person, I might take offense at all of it: If Will’s life is supposedly not worth living, with all the support he has, what does that say about those without a private staff, tons of money, and endless opportunity for a good life?