Thursday, June 2, 2016

Love in the time of paralysis

A British weepy that tries to get serious.

The title -- Me Before You -- sounds like it might be describing a self-help book for the terminally selfish.

But Me Before You has nothing to do with getting ahead in a ruthless, Trumpian world where deal-makers think of themselves as killers, and turn their adversaries into prey.

Actually, I'd like to see that movie, but Me Before You comes from a polar opposite direction. It's a bona fide weepy, so intent on wringing tears from its audience that complimentary boxes of tissues -- in a promotional wrapping, of course -- were handed out prior to a recent preview screening.

This adaptation of a popular 2012 novel by Jojo Moyes might have gotten somewhere if it hadn't starred an unbearably cute Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, a guy who looks like a young Hugh Grant in a wheelchair. The story involves quadriplegia.

But that's just me. Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Claflin (The Hunger Games) are precisely the reason that the movie will work for those who are able to buy into it.

A glossy romance with a morbid twist, director Thea Sharrock's movie purports to deal with a few serious issues. Really, though, it's all about those tissues.

To prime the pump for a flow of tears, we're supposed to fall under the spell of the irrepressible Lou, a lower-class woman with a spiffed-up thrift store wardrobe and an unwillingness to appear in any two scenes wearing the same pair of shoes.

Lou's village also is home to a castle occupied by a wealthy family. Enter Will Traynor (Claflin), a hot shot investment guy who became a quadriplegic after being hit by a motorcycle while crossing a London Street.

Miserable that he no longer can be the dashing young man he once was, Will has sunk into a depression.

But wait ...

It's a sure bet that Lou, desperately in need of a job after losing employment at a local cafe, will try to reinvigorate Will's spirit when she's hired as his caretaker.

For his part, Will claims he'll never accept his new lot. If he can't be the man he was, he'd rather not be at all. He'll choose assisted suicide.

Will's parents -- Janet McTeer and Charles Dance -- give the movie gravitas. They're understandably concerned about their son.

McTeer and Dance also resemble drop-ins from another movie, reminders that this isn't a traditional rom-com, but a movie that wants to appeal to the same crowd that wept at The Fault in Our Stars.

Disability isn't the only obstacle to burgeoning love. Class issues intrude, as well. Will works to educate Lou, exposing her to subtitled films, books and Mozart. This isn't exactly Pygmalion, but you get the idea.

Clarke and Claflin develop some chemistry, but Clarke's Lou is bubbly to the point of overflow. She works overtime trying to persuade Will that he shouldn't travel to Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal. She's a cheerleader for Team Life.

No self-respecting romance can proceed without glamor. Me Before You pours it on when Lou and Will visit Mauritius. He wants to give her a dream vacation, and she hopes that the trip will take his mind off any end-of-life plans.

To which I say: Assisted suicide should be a lot more than a plot device. It should be fully engaged as a subject.

A final fillip of encouragement turns the story into a tale of self-actualization for Lou; her relationship with Will may be just what she needs to leave the constricted confines of her village and make her way in the larger world.

Call me callous, but the little box of promotional tissues still sits on a forsaken corner of my desk. It remains unopened.

It's possible to argue that Me Before You is well done, but well done teary-eyed schlock is still teary-eyed schlock.

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