When the lights dim and the movie begins, we try to shed our perceptions of the actors in other roles they’ve done — but sometimes the casting in a movie is just too meta to ignore.
In “Me Before You,” Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones” is the daughter of Mr. Bates from “Downton Abbey,” and she falls in love with Finnick Odair from “The Hunger Games,” whose father is … Tywin Lannister from “Game of Thrones.”
When Emilia Clarke’s character meets Charles Dance’s character, I couldn’t help wishing he would say, “The mother of dragons, in MY house!?”
But that would be a “Funny or Die” clip and not a movie, and we are here to talk about the movie, and alas, “Me Before You” is nowhere near as entertaining as the television programs and the film referenced above.
Based on a beloved and bestselling novel and doing everything to make you cry short of flooding theaters with the overwhelming scent of onions, “Me Before You” is a beautifully filmed and well-intentioned weeper marred by an unfortunate performance from one of the leads, and a plot development that leaves us more angry and frustrated than moved in the final act.
Emilia Clarke from “Game of Thrones” floors the gas pedal on Self-Consciously Adorable as Louisa aka “Lou,” a painfully simple working-class girl in her mid-20s who dresses like a 7-year-old pretending to be a grown-up, furrows her considerable eyebrows so frequently and so aggressively we’re afraid they might just leave her face, and maintains the cheerful demeanor of a princess-to-be in a Disney cartoon.
Sam Claflin’s Will had it all — the looks, the charm, the great job, the moneyed background (he grew up in an actual castle), the beautiful girlfriend — until the rainy morning when he was yapping on his cell phone and he walked right into the path of a motorcycle, and now he’s a quadriplegic, living on the grounds of his parents’ estate, alienating one caregiver after another, blasting metal music in his room and hating every second of his existence.
Enter Lou as Will’s latest caregiver, and here come the plot references to “My Fair Lady,” “Educating Rita,” “The Bucket List,” “Pretty Woman” (Lou even wears a red dress to a musical performance, ala Julia Roberts) and even “Dying Young” (in which Ms. Roberts played a caregiver to a wealthy patient played by Campbell Scott).
Will is rude to the point of cruelty. Lou keeps coming at him with flowers and enthusiasm and suggestions for fun activities they can do. Will’s loving parents (Charles Dance and Janet McTeer) pace about their enormous home in their tasteful rich people’s clothes, arguing about what to do about Will’s state of mind. The soundtrack is peppered with songs containing lyrics almost literally describing what just transpired, as we transition to the next scene.
At one point Lou notices scars on Will’s wrists, indicating a suicide attempt. Am I wrong to wonder how a quadriplegic cut his own wrists? Did someone help him?
Bigger problems with “Me Before You” include Lou’s boorish wet blanket of a boyfriend, a self-absorbed clown who makes it REALLY easy for Lou to turn her eyes to Will.
Also, scenes in which the audience at a concert and the guests at a wedding reception are horrified by the mere presence of a man in a wheelchair seem way, way over the top. Yes, differently abled individuals must deal with ignorant reactions from some people. But in “Me Before You,” the elite and the privileged stare at Will as if they have never seen anyone in a wheelchair and they can’t believe he has the nerve to join them in society.
And then there’s Will himself. Granted, it’s beyond our comprehension to fully understand what it must be like to be in the best of health one day and then unable to walk or move one’s arms the next. It’s a tragedy. Yet Will is in a situation that would be the envy of 99.9 percent of quadriplegic. The decisions he makes are more infuriating than debate-provoking, more selfish than the selflessness with which they’re portrayed in the film.
As tearjerkers go, this one features a guy who’s something of a jerk.
New Line Cinema and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures present a film directed by Thea Sharrock and written by JoJo Moyes, based on her book. Running time: 110 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic elements and some suggestive material). Opens Friday at local theaters.