It’s easy to be cold and cynical these days, but we should never lose sight of the simple, cathartic pleasure of a good cry at the movies. Thea Sharrock’s charming new Anglo-weepie, Me Before You, is a perfect case in point. It may not quite rise to the level of a classic three-hankie tearjerker, but it’s proof that sometimes one or two hankies is more than enough to get the job done. Based on a best-selling 2012 novel by Jojo Moyes (she also penned the screenplay), the film will feel familiar to anyone who’s sniffled through Love Story or The Fault in Our Stars. It’s better than both.
Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke stars as Louisa, a bumbling small-town shopgirl who brightens the day of everyone she meets with her bottomless kindness, irrepressible smile, and quirky Pantone-palette wardrobe. She’s like Love Actually-era Keira Knightley crossed with a Hello Kitty doll. When the local bakery she works at shutters, Louisa lands a job as a caretaker to Will, a wealthy young London business hotshot who was paralyzed from the neck down in a traffic accident two years earlier. Since he’s played by Sam Claflin (of The Hunger Games fame), he’s also impossibly good-looking—even if his condition has left him bitterly depressed and cuttingly sarcastic in a wheelchair.
You don’t have to be Kreskin (or Nicholas Sparks, for that matter) to know where this is headed—that these two opposites (he’s a storm cloud, she’s all silver lining) will end up attracting, and that love, at least for a while, will prove stronger than death. But you’ll forgive the movie’s clichés because of its surprisingly winning performances. Clarke may start off as a chipper thrift-store Cinderella and Claflin like a prickly Prince Charming, but as the film goes on and the frost between them melts, both actors give their stock roles unexpected emotional layers. As the saintly Louisa brings Will out of his self-pitying shell by watching foreign films with him, whisking him off to the horse races, and curling up next to him for deep late-night confessionals, Clarke’s sincerity doesn’t just win Will’s heart, it wins ours, too. When she smiles, the whole screen glows.
If all of this seems too good to be true, well, it is. Will has found his adorable savior, but he may not want to be saved. Even with Louisa by his side, he’ll never be the man he was and still wants to be. It’s the closest that Sharrock and Moyes come to deviating from the genre’s formula. But we don’t go to romantic melodramas like this looking for surprises. We want to be resold on the power of love. Me Before You doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. We’ve all seen some version of this movie before, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. It knows what it is and embraces it. Now, if you’ll pardon me, I have to go wipe something from my eye. It’s allergies, I swear. B+