He’s wealthy, handsome and grouchy. She’s working-class, adorable and perpetually happy. They’re the kind of match movies have been making for decades, but in “Me Before You” they come with a twist: Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), once a weekend athlete and daredevil, is now a quadriplegic.
This, too, is the kind of medical misfortune that movies like to throw at young lovers, whether it’s cancer in “The Fault in Our Stars” or the vaguely defined illness in “Love Story.” Those films may have been slightly exploitative and hugely manipulative, but “Me Before You,” adapted from Jojo Moyes’ best-seller, borders on insensitive. As a romantic weepie, it isn’t bad. As a drama about a man with a disability, however, it’s potentially offensive.
It starts out enjoyably enough, introducing us to Emilia Clarke as Louisa Clark, a walking ray of sunshine who favors daft little-girl outfits and puts everyone else’s needs above her own. It’s an unlikely role for the actress who plays the steel-spined Daenerys Targaryen on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” but her aggressive cuteness is hard to resist. When Louisa is hired to care for Will, even he can’t keep up his misanthropic facade. Will introduces her to foreign films; she reintroduces him to the pleasures of fresh air and the company of others.
Their budding romance isn’t totally unconvincing, but “Me Before You” paints a very pretty picture of Will’s condition. Louisa is told early on that the truly difficult tasks — anything involving a bathtub or a toilet — will be handled by Will’s aide, Nathan (a very good Stephen Peacocke). That’s convenient, as is Will’s vast wealth. We can’t help but wonder whether Louisa, noble as she is, would be quite so starry-eyed about this man under less attractive circumstances.
Capably directed by first-timer Thea Sharrock from Moyes’ screenplay, “Me Before You” takes a serious turn in its second half and addresses the fraught issue of assisted suicide. That debate is far too complex for this trivial movie, which perhaps unintentionally says some very dismissive and discouraging things about the value of life in a wheelchair. For a movie about love, “Me Before You” ends up feeling awfully heartless.