Friday, June 03, 2016

Me Before You

Would've been better if dragons were behind them in the sky
I read Me Before You by Jojo Moyes a few months ago, because usually if a novel that I'm even remotely interested in is being made into a film, I want to hurry up and finish the book first. I'm not typically one for weepy romances, but I have to admit that—like John Green's The Fault in Our Stars (which is waaaaay better, if equally manipulative)—Me Before You did affect me and had me sobbing my head off by the end. The film adaptation, whose screenplay was also written by Moyes, tries desperately to inspire that same emotional reaction. But for me, it failed.

The story revolves around Louisa Clark (Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke), who mostly goes by her last name in the film. She's a young woman with no real ambitions who's desperate for a job because she's pretty much supporting her entire extended family. Despite her circumstances, however, she is impossibly upbeat and expresses this through outrageous outfits that look like something the four-year-old girls in my son's pre-k class would pick out. I felt like Moyes went overboard on the Quirky Scale with Clark's character in the book, so it annoyed me even more to see all of her weird clothes and shoes brought to life on the big screen.

Clark needs a job and ends up becoming the latest in a long line of caretakers for Will Traynor (The Hunger Games' Sam Claflin, well cast), who had everything anyone could ever dream of... all before being hit by a motorcycle. Now he's a quadriplegic and extremely, extremely bitter. His crazy-rich parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance, also perfectly cast)—they literally live in a castle—are beside themselves and are putting no small amount of pressure on Clark to convince Will that life is still worth living.

You can already guess what happens: little by little, Clark is able to break down Will's walls with her never-ending positivity and relentlessness, and they eventually fall for each other. (It didn't hurt that Clark's boyfriend throughout most of the story is a self-centered buffoon.) One thing Moyes got right with the screenplay is that she dropped two dark subplots that were in the book—one about Will's parents and the other about Clark's past. Minor characters like Will's sister are also gone, so the focus is almost entirely on Clark and Will's changing relationship.
I can't even with her outfits and hair.
But it was a misstep for Moyes and first-time director Thea Sharrock not to give us more insight into Will's state of mind. In the novel, Clark gets to know other quadriplegics through message boards, and I felt it went a long way toward understanding why Will could not bring himself to adjust to his new circumstances while others in similar situations embraced their lives more fully. I do not think this was the intention of the film in any way, but it came off as though the ultra-wealthy cannot cope with tragedy because they've always gotten what they wanted, whereas families who struggle are better equipped to handle even the most dire of setbacks.

Which leads us back to Clark and her uber-optimism. I did not have a problem with it in and of itself because I, too, try to convince others that the glass is half full more than I probably should. What I couldn't get over was Emilia Clarke's facial expressions. Girlfriend has some CRAZY eyebrows that work for her as the Mother of Dragons, but that almost took on a life of their own in this film. Clarke is an actress who acts with her entire face, which would be refreshing if it weren't so distracting in this particular case. If you go to this movie and are not bothered whatsoever by the many ways Clarke's eyebrows can move, I salute you. But to me it came off like she was trying too hard, almost like she wanted to go overboard with being animated in order to make people forget about her steely Game of Thrones character. It often ruined what should've been a somber or touching scene. Claflin, however, was exactly how I pictured Will would be, and was able to pull off both Will's biting wit and repressed rage.

I want to be clear that I'm not saying Clarke was an awful actress in this film, but I do think she was miscast and too enthusiastic with her facial expressions at key points. Her performance came off as cheesy in those scenes, which were usually accompanied by an aggressive, intrusive song off of the film's soundtrack. Luckily there weren't too many of these moments, but I must still forewarn my fellow book fans to set their expectations accordingly.

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