If I have one true celebrity crush (and I do), it’s Emilia Clarke. After all, it’s because of her that tonight, for the first time in my life, I saw two back-to-back Thursday night preview screenings! And this is the day before I have to get up at 6:00 in the morning, go to work, and then make a three-and-a-half hour drive. And for a romance, which I’m not necessarily against, but also is not something I’d typically go out of my way for. But I have an insanely busy couple of weeks coming up – with a lot of movies coming out – and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss this one and the only reason for that is Emilia Clarke. She sold this ticket.
Outside of that, I have no preconceived notions of the romance genre, in general. I’ve seen some that I loved (Sliding Doors, (500) Days of Summer, City of Angels) and some that I didn’t (I didn’t dislike Titanic as a film but it fails as a love story). I love film and the creative process too much to ever write off an entire genre. That said, I expected to enjoy Emilia Clarke and tolerate the rest of the film. I don’t know why. That was just the feeling I had based on the trailers. It ended up being like that expectation vs. reality scene in the aforementioned (500) Days of Summer but reversed: I expected the worst but ended up pretty pleased.
Let me get the obvious out of the way. Emilia is sparking and completely endearing. I’m so glad she took this role because it allows her to show off a completely different set of skills compared to her role as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones. Other than the fact that both characters are good, noble people, Daenerys and Lou (as she’s known here) couldn’t be more different. I was sincerely taken aback by how delicately funny she can be. And it isn’t just the lines (which are witty and well-written) but her timing. And, as I – like Lou, although in a much different context – am someone who, on a daily basis, has to try and convince people that they have hope when they can’t possibly see it, themselves, I am very impressed by Emilia’s approach to that aspect of her character. She sincerely understands the approach one must take to succeed at such a thing and she is completely believable in the role. She gets it. She gets all of it.
Plus, she finally gets to share the screen with her Game of Thrones rival, Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance! That’s a nice little added bonus for my fellow GoT fanatics out there.
The remainder of the cast is a nice mixture of established talent (Dance) and buzzy up-and-comers (Matthew Lewis and Jenna Coleman, for example). Sam Claflin does a nice job in a tough role, as well. I mentioned that I was surprised by how funny Emilia can be, but I was actually surprised by how funny the film as a whole is. Claflin gets his lighter moments, as well (especially the moment in which we – and Lou – are introduced to him), and succinctly walks the wire between looking for hope and accepting reality.
There are some frustrating clichés to deal with in the film. Modern entertainment continues to perpetrate the suggestion that the guy the girl should want is the one who treats her like garbage when they first meet. The idea is that the girl can “change him” when no one else could and therefore increase her own sense of self-worth. It’s a wish-fulfillment film, in that regard, and that aspect of it is centered around a tiresome trope that is potentially dangerous to both young men and women and I’d love to see it vanish, entirely.
The wish-fulfillment aspect, alone, however isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all want different things from life. Super-hero films are wish-fulfillment films for a large portion of the audience, too. There’s nothing wrong for dreaming of a scenario where one “rescues” a lonely soul from their deepest despair and finds themselves necessary to another and, therefore, to the world. Makes sense. Just don’t let them talk down to you. At all. Not at the beginning, middle, or end.
Where the film most impresses me, however (and this may be due to the source material, which I haven’t read, so I can’t compare) is that it has the guts to tell the story that honestly comes about through these characters and not the story that some entitled audiences will demand. There’s already some backlash against the film from people who are unable to see any viewpoint except their own. These people also seem unable to grasp the simple concept that (as I’ve said before) most films aren’t making a statement or judgement on anyone or anything; they’re just telling a singular, specific story about specific characters. They aren’t telling your story and you have no right to demand that they do so.
Me Before You is well-acted, well-directed, charming, honest, and brave in the face of a world that specializes in mob justice mentality. I love that director Thea Sharrock and company stick to their guns and tell their story. As a single straight guy who just wanted to scratch his Emilia Clarke itch, I appreciated the subversion of rom-com clichés and that, ultimately, the film chooses reality over fantasy. The fact that it manages to do this while also offering up everything that the target audience is looking for is even more impressive. I hope this is a sign of things to come and that the trend of filmmakers sticking to their visions persists. In this case, Me Before You offers up a refreshing and surprising film going experience that completely surpassed my expectations.