Generally I try to avoid the ‘it’ books everyone is raving about, but when the movie adaptation comes out I end up caving. I ignored Me Before You for most of the year, despite the super-sized hype and seemingly endless stream of reviews and Instagram shots. But what did grab my attention was the snippets of criticism I started seeing on social media. I haven’t read the book and I’m not going to, so I can only judge the movie adaptation, but I must admit I went into the cinema with very low expectations and disapproval in mind. Watching it left me feeling pretty conflicted so I wanted to try and sort out my thoughts in this review. It’s going to include plenty of spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book/watched the movie and don’t want it ruined, don’t keep reading.
If you’re not familiar with the plot; wealthy, adventurous finance mogul Will becomes a quadriplegic after a traffic accident. Despite having no formal training or any experience as a carer, Lou is hired by Will’s family to act as a companion and, it is later revealed, reverse his decision to end his life through euthanasia.
I don’t want this review/discussion to be entirely negative so I will say I loved Emilia Clarke as Lou. She was so warm and bubbly and has the most amazingly expressive eyebrows I have ever seen. There were quite a few aspects of her personality I loved; her open and friendly nature, eccentric dress sense and loyalty. But Lou was also very sheltered and naive. I guessed she was about 20, but was shocked when it was revealed she was 26.
Lou’s stupidity when it came to caring for Will angered me. She was hired despite having no experience of caring for anyone, let alone someone with serious medical conditions.
Lou doesn’t even bother to read the comprehensive document about Will’s medical needs, leading to him falling seriously ill at one point. But the fact she was hired at all shows she’s not the only one incapable of making the right decisions in this film.
I found the trip to the races utterly ridiculous. I can’t believe Lou didn’t research accessible parking options and ignored the advice from Will’s nurse about parking near a patch of mud which the wheelchair becomes bogged in, leading to extreme embarrassment for Will. I was absolutely fuming when Lou refused to listen to Will’s concerns about eating at a restaurant, making a scene despite his asking if they could leave. There are also issues around the holiday to a tropical island, but if I continue to nitpick everything this discussion will be endless.
Many other people have written about the problems in this film much more eloquently than I’m able to. Basically, I’m concerned by the message this film sends about disability. Will’s decision to commit suicide sends the message life isn’t worth living with a disability and I feel that’s dangerous. I’m able-bodied so I don’t feel like I have any authority to comment, but I’ve read the opinions of people who have a disability and when they’re raising issues with content, I think we need to listen. I also question why a quadriplegic actor was not cast. There’s an argument movies need well-known faces, but surely people can’t become more well-known unless casting becomes more diverse?
Even a year ago I probably would have loved this book and wouldn’t have understood the criticism. But I’ve changed so much in that time and have become much more concerned with how my actions and words impact those around me. I want to understand why this film is problematic and I want to continue the conversation with people who haven’t seen the issues. I don’t want to condemn anyone who enjoyed this book or the film, but I don’t think the very valid concerns raised by so many can be ignored.
Despite my anger at aspects of the plot, I enjoyed a night with some of my best friends escaping reality. Don’t avoid Me Before You, but if you watch it do so with representation in mind.
‘I’m not a thing to be pitied’: the disability backlash against Me Before You
Me Before You: life disability and ‘inspiration porn’