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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Me Before You movie review: romantic dramedy delusions

Me Before You red light

This miscalculated romantic dramedy is pathetically simplistic about morally complicated issues, and kind of offensive to those living with disabilities.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

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?tweet

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 offensetweet 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?

red light 1.5 stars

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Me Before You (2016)
US/Can release: Jun 03 2016
UK/Ire release: Jun 03 2016

MPAA: rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate sex references, suicide references)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Laury Halse

    I found Clarke’s portrayal of Lou to be quite charming actually. Also, you argue that she didn’t have the necessary skills required to handle someone like will — I’m going to have to disagree, it’s the fact that she was bubbly and approachable that made will warm up to her in the first place. Her personality and company made a great impact on Will, someone who’d been wheelchair bound for two whole years. The fact that this film portrayed someone of that stature (wealthy, handsome etc.) going through what he did is sympathetic to disabled people. Bad things don’t happen to poor peope only — and this film is a cut above most pathetic romance films that use issues (cancer, divorce) as deceptive means to et audience members crying. Id say this film earns its tears, the issue is addressed early on and then worked with.

  • CParis

    This looks like a treacly Lifetime/Hallmark channel movie that we’re supposed to pay $12 to see when we can watch its like at home, for free.

  • An acquaintance of mine, a woman in her sixties with MS who currently uses a motorized wheelchair. I first heard about this movie when she criticized it on Facebook, saying something like “suicide is a tragedy when the able-bodied do it but romantic and noble when we do it.”

    Just backing up your assessment, MAJ.


    There are a few instances in the film when her lack of awareness of how his body is working — or, more accurately, not working — puts him in danger. I’d call that a problem.

  • I like so many of the actors in this movie that I was thinking of paying to see it, but I guess I’ll wait until it hits cable.

  • “If I were a disabled person, I might take offense.”

    Disabled people have taken tons of offense, and based on the spoilers I’ve read, with good reason.

    Listen, even with limitless wealth and an unwavering support system, I’d still be pretty depressed if I went from able-bodied to quadriplegic in the blink of an eye. It’s a lot to adjust to. I can even understand feeling suicidal over it. I’ll give the movie that much.


    What I won’t give the movie is the premise that it’s ultimately good to act on those suicidal urges. That suicide is the right thing for the person who’s been paralyzed AND all the people who love him. That his offing himself enables the treacly Hallmark ending.

    A serious drama might be capable of tackling these issues sensitively. As a formulaic romance, it’s just misopathy.

  • Disabled people have taken tons of offense, and based on the spoilers I’ve read, with good reason.

    Yes, but I didn’t want to speak about definites or absolutes — you know, like “Disabled people should take offense at this” — because I am not a disabled person and it’s not my place to speak for them.

  • liz

    She wasn’t employed for nursing skills, she is employed because she is simply a nice girl. I get your meaning, I really do, but I think you are complaining about something the character was never meant to be.

  • liz

    But the film does take that subject seriously. What I took away from the film that it is a person’s choice to make and it isn’t up to me to decide anything for someone else. I don’t agree with suicide…ever. But I refuse to say that someone in Will’s position doesn’t ave the right to decide for himself.

  • Danielm80

    This isn’t an argument about freedom of choice. Of course Will has the right to make his own decisions. The problem is that they’re really bad decisions. He decides to hire an unqualified person for a job that requires medical experience, and he decides that life as a quadriplegic is unbearable, despite the countless disabled people who lead productive lives.

    There are, I’m sure, disabled people who really do feel that way, but the film (which, I’ll admit, I haven’t seen) seems to endorse his decision, and even suggests that it’s noble and romantic. Would you walk up to Stephen Hawking or Ron Kovic and say, “You would have been better off killing yourself”? That’s not romantic, it’s horrific. And it’s a terrible message to send to disabled people who face challenges even greater than Will’s and go on to accomplish remarkable things.

  • So, you’re cool with her putting his health in danger more than once because she does not understand his medical needs? Is that romantic?

  • I refuse to say that someone in Will’s position doesn’t ave the right to decide for himself

    Literally no one is saying that.

  • He decides to hire an unqualified person

    Actually, his parents hire her. He has no say in it. Even though he’s a grown man. So that’s offensive, too, treating him like a child. And yet his parents also do not seem to get him any help for the depression he is obviously dealing with.

    Oh, there are so many ways in which this movie is wrong.

  • Liz

    I don’t have any medical skills, I looked after my mother when she had dialysis. That was CAPD dialysis. She was treated initially at Ann Arbor University Hospital in the US and then here in the UK. Sometimes people with no skills have to cope, there is no other choice. And as it was made very clear in the movie there was a nurse who took care of all that. Why are you trying to emphasize something that is very clearly shown in the film to be not the case? Louise never put Will’s life in danger and she did her best in a situation that the story made no bones about…she wasn’t a nurse. Just a caring human being who tried. OK he nearly died, but he didn’t die…his nurse finally got there. I don’t understand your dislike for a movie that doesn’t say suicide is a great answer to Will’s disability, it’s the one he wanted and his choice deserved respect. You don’t seem to have much respect for Will’s choice…why? You don’t think that he should have had one or what?

  • Liz

    So no one has the right to choose not to live in pain because someone who is in the same predicament says it’s a bad idea? Whatever happened to an individual’s right to make up their own mind?

  • Liz

    You’re not? I’m sorry then, that is what is coming across loud and clear to me. Dignatas is a real place, real people go there. It’s not an easy choice to make and this universal condemnation is kind of cruel IMO. But what do I know, I only took care of my mother for months before she died. She only took care of her mother and felt guilt when my Gran died. I’ve seen this from both sides, my Gran who wanted to die, my mother who fought for her life and refused to give up. I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that it’s not up to anyone to tell another person they have to live because it gives disabled people bad press if they prefer to leave life on their own terms.

  • Liz

    So he has the right to choose, but not the right to make what you think is a bad decision? So much for freedom of choice.

  • Liz

    Again this comes back to freedom of choice, only now the mother doesn’t have the right to try and show her son he has reasons to live? She is wrong for hiring a bright and cheerful girl to try and brighten up and bring cheer to her son. Yep, all kind of wrong with this movie. The mother should have just left her son to his own devices and not tried at all.

  • bronxbee

    the movie, i’ve been told, ends *exactly* the way the book does. people always complain when a movie doesn’t stick to the book. when one does, then there is another group unhappy with the movie… humans are peculiar.

  • Danielm80

    I’m going to quote what cinderkeys said a few days ago:

    A serious drama might be capable of tackling these issues sensitively. As a formulaic romance, it’s just misopathy.

    And I’ll quote what MaryAnn said in the review:

    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?

    And I’m going to refer you to this article:


    I’m not trying to make a blanket statement about all disabled people, or to judge people who’ve considered suicide. I’m just saying that this movie does a bad job of portraying Will’s options and, as far as I can tell, it does it with a romantic tone that doesn’t fit the situation.

  • Liz

    Yes you are making a blanket statement about disabled people, because you sure are not making a statement about the film. You have not mentioned the film as a film. It’s a movie about a man in a bad situation making a choice, that’s it. It’s not a treatise or a documentary about how the disabled live and I think you are saying that disabled people shouldn’t get romantically attached to anyone under any circumstances. Is he wealthy, sure he is. But you’re not posting about how easy the wealthy have it either.

    You are not posting about the acting, the cinematography, the script or the direction. What you are posting about is disabled people and that you feel this movie is some kind of disrespectful toward them because the disabled character in the movie decided to not live in pain. And God forbid that a disabled man should want to make love to a woman. Romance has no place in a world that has disability in it.

    Dignatas is a real place, disabled people go there in real life to die by their own choice. Are you saying that these real people with very real problems don’t have that choice because a pro-suicide choice should never be the subject for a movie?

  • Danielm80

    At this point, the only possible response is *headdesk*

  • Liz

    I know how that feels right now. Or did it not occur to you that you could bring out that reaction in anyone? The thing is we just disagree, we are not disabled, and I actually respect that you disagree with me. How I wish that you returned the courtesy.

  • halavana

    When Flickfilospher and Relevant magazine agree on a movie, it’s time to pay attention. Thanks for the review. I’m skipping this one.

  • Presumably, the people unhappy with the movie would be unhappy with the book as well.

  • CB

    So asking rhetorical questions to imply a person holds a certain position that they did not even remotely express and then judging them for it is cool now?

    People’s lives are their own, and they have the right to choose to end it.

    Suicide is always a tragedy. Usually the tragic ending to a larger tragedy. It’s inherently tragic to choose death even if — actually, especially if — that’s the best option going.

    These statements are not contradictory.

    Suicide is the ending of a Shakespearean or Greek tragedy before the curtain falls, not the gateway to the happy ending in a rom-com.

  • CB

    Your automatic equation of “that’s a bad/tragic decision” and “you’re not allowed to make that decision” is the entire source of the problem here– both your problem with what other people are saying, and other people’s frustration with the disconnect between what they actually said and what you’re saying they said.

  • Danielm80

    I get the feeling that a lot of Liz’s comments had more to do with her personal experiences than with the movie. I stopped responding to her comments after a while, because I didn’t want to suggest that I was judging her or her loved ones.

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