Novelist Jojo Moyes’s 2012 romance “Me Before You” was the kind of read that required a box of tissues to get through. It sold millions of copies.
That’s a lot of tears.
The inevitable movie adaptation has now arrived, boasting up-and-comers Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” and Sam Claflin of the “Hunger Games” franchise in the lead roles. For all its star power, however, it’s missing something crucial: the emotional gut punch of the book.
That’s funny, because the story is mostly unchanged. Clarke plays Lou, a 26-year-old with an eccentric sense of style who lives with her parents in small-town England. The family is just barely scraping by, so when Lou loses her job at a bakery, desperate circumstances dictate that she take a job as a caregiver to a quadriplegic man, even though she has zero experience.
Thirty-year-old Will Traynor (Claflin) comes from a posh family and used to lead a charmed life in London, with a great job and a gorgeous girlfriend. But since getting hit by a motorbike, he’s been paralyzed from the neck down. Two years since his accident, he’s still angry; in fact, he’s plotting his suicide. Will has no incentive to do anything but push away his new caregiver, and he’s good at being mean. His stubbornness, however, is no match for Lou’s sunny disposition. Even though he’s a snob and she doesn’t know what pesto is, pretty soon the two are falling in love — despite the small matter of her ill-matched boyfriend. She makes it her secret mission to convince Will that life is worth living.
Directed by Thea Sharrock, the movie feels like a dutiful copy of Moyes’s book, which the author adapted herself for the screen. Despite ticking off the necessary plot points, it reads like a CliffsNotes version of the original.
In place of character development, we get montages and emotional crutches. Since the story isn’t enough to send us into sobs, songs by pop star Ed Sheeran attempt to do the trick. It doesn’t work.
In fact, the music is consistently puzzling. When Lou takes Will to the racetrack and his wheelchair gets stuck in a grass field, the scene is set to a jaunty tune. That same scene was one of the most uncomfortable, tragic moments in the book.
The direction is nearly as distracting. During conversations, the camera cuts rapidly from character to character, rendering reaction shots less revelatory than distracting.
That said, Claflin and Clarke do a worthy job with their characters. After a slow start, the two settle into a natural rhythm and show off some impressive sparks.
Even before its release, the movie had come under fire for its depiction of quadriplegia. Disability activists wondered why Hollywood keeps churning out stories about paralyzed people who think suicide is the answer.
They have a point, yet that’s hardly the only problem with “Me Before You.” It’s a movie so set on staying true to the book that it has turned itself into a shallow imitation of it.
(110 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for mature themes and suggestive material.