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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Me Before You is a romantic drama based on Jojo Moyes' moving novel about a young woman (Emilia Clarke) in a tiny English town who takes the job of caring for an unhappy man (Sam Claflin) left paralyzed after being hit by a motorcycle. Expect some swearing (including "s--t," "bitch," "a--hole," and more, though not constantly), some drinking (sometimes to tipsiness), and racy content -- although there's nothing graphic, certain scenes feel very intimate, and there are some passionate kisses and references to sex and a woman's breasts/cleavage. While there are moments of levity and sweetness, the film's tone is a somber overall and sometimes downright tragic. The two main characters learn a lot from each other, especially about opening yourself up to different ways of thinking, but some viewers may find Will and his point of view problematic, since (spoiler alert) he feels that life isn't worth living if you're disabled.
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What's the story?
In ME BEFORE YOU, Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) was once a high-powered financier in London who grabbed life by the horns -- but after a motorcycle collision leaves him paralyzed, all he can think of is the pain he feels on a day-to-day basis, and he longs for a permanent escape. Enter Louisa "Lou" Clark (Emilia Clarke), a quirky, optimistic former waitress who needs a job to help with her family's finances. Even though she doesn't have any relevant experience, Lou is hired to be Will's companion and caretaker. What she does have is a deep well of kindness and joy, which she taps when she decides she wants to give Will a real reason to live. But can love conquer all?
Is it any good?
This movie treads a tricky line, both infuriating and charming viewers. The charm can be chalked up to star Clarke; she makes Lou the type of beguiling creature we've seen in films before who's often known as a "manic pixie dream girl" -- quirky, irreverent, and usually irresistible. Which is also where the infuriation comes in: The MPDG usually serves the function of making a male protagonist feel lightened and leavened, without experiencing much development herself. (All we really know about Lou in the movie is that she's cheery, optimistic, and kind; wears wacky clothing; and dreams of being in fashion in some vague way -- she was more fully developed, tragic back story and all, in the book.)
And then there's the fact that Me Before You feels somewhat manipulative, with its BIG. SAD. FEELINGS. No melancholy moment is left unaccompanied by too-on-the-nose music, no delicate interaction between Lou and Will is spared a close-up. There's also a feeling of condescension toward the have-nots and the disabled. Will is portrayed as fundamentally dissatisfied with a life that -- even though family money affords him comfort and and round-the-clock care -- apparently just isn't good enough because he misses his old life, one that Lou herself (and, by extension, the film) has characterized as shallow. But perhaps most upsetting of all is how, despite all of this, Me Before You works on a certain level. You'll likely cry (in between eye-rolls) and be moved and root for the couple, for Lou, and for the idea of hope and renewed joy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Will is portrayed. Do you find his view of being disabled problematic? Can you see why disabled people might? What do you think about how disabled people are portrayed in the media generally? Do disabled characters tend to come off as stereotypes rather than complex individuals?
How does Me Before You handle the class differences between Lou and Will? Does it glamorize the idea of a "good life"? Does it contradict itself in some ways?
Talk about how movies and TV shows sometimes have idealized female characters whose job appears to be to cheer up male characters and show them another way of living. Is this stereotypical/limiting? Is it uplifting? Can it be both?
For those who've read the book, which do you like better, and why? What parts were left out of the movie that you missed? How do you think they impact the story?
- In theaters: June 3, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: August 30, 2016
- Cast: Sam Claflin, Emilia Clarke, Jenna Coleman
- Director: Thea Sharrock
- Studio: New Line Cinema
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some suggestive material
- Last updated: February 27, 2020
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