Fans of Daenerys Targaryen—Game of Thrones’ ever-intriguing breaker of chains, mother of dragons, shedder of garments and all that—better be warned before checking out the new Brit tearjerker Me Before You. Sure, actress Emilia Clarke stars in both, but in the big screen weepie, based on the 2012 bestseller novel by Jojo Moyes (who also wrote the screenplay), she’s a far cry from the bold blonde tigress she’s played for six season on HBO.
In Me Before You, she’s Louisa, a small-town, working-class café waitress who tries to make everyone else’s days as bright as her eye-frying wardrobe. Clarke lays on the manic pixie stuff and mugs in close-up with such broad goofiness that she almost makes you want to run for cover. When Louisa gets dumped from her café job, her family’s dire financial circumstances force her to take a job no one else wants: as a caretaker to Will, a moneyed, sports-loving young London finance kingpin who’s been bitter and insufferable ever since a car mowed him down and left him a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.
Will’s super rich parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance, the latter another familiar Game of Thrones figure) are at a loss. Their son has shed his wife, shut out his friends; all he wants to do is die. Predictably, Will and Luisa pretty much despise each other on sight and things stay that way for quite a while. But this is meant to be an upbeat tragedy, a class-conscious romance in the mode of Love Story or The Fault in Our Stars crossed with an unlikely friendship story like Intouchables. How can there not be a thaw in their relationship, especially when Will is played by the ridiculously good-looking Sam Claflin?
Because Me Before You calls to mind everything from Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier to Nicholas Sparks, you know exactly where the thing is headed the entire time: toward a love that will stand the test of time and mortality. And that’s just fine. So Will introduces the undereducated Louisa to foreign films. She takes him to the horse track. They attend a posh concert and later spend an incredibly luxurious holiday by the sea. He seems to get cheerier. He even appears to fall in love, but then things get real again.
In the end, it’s all about Will—and will. What happens when someone in the prime of his life loses the will to keep living, knowing that he’ll never again be the person he once was? Me Before You is calculated and shameless, and it steamrolls its way over some pretty complex issues having to do with quality of life and the age-old question of whose life is it, anyway? What makes the Thea Sharrock-directed movie endurable is how Clarke and Claflin lift it, deepen it and generally give it a good spank on the butt. They make us care because they commit fully to the thing, even at its silliest. And damn if they don’t attack the tear ducts no matter how hard you resist.