Review: ME BEFORE YOU
Honesty is very crucial. I am the first to say that and I will almost always be honest. Unless of course it’s the little white lie you tell your heart diseased grandfather about there being no more fries at the buffet stand. That kind of lie is understandable. That’s beside the point. My confession here is I only decided to read this book and see this film because I knew Emilia Clarke was starring in it and I have become too much a fan of hers to ignore that. I will also be honest, this may make me biased, but I have tried everything possible to be as objective as I can, so bear with me on this one.
“Me Before You” is a love story, there is no denying that, but more importantly it’s a story of life and how it can mean something different to each and every one of us. Jojo Moyes, author of the New York Times Bestseller, paints readers a beautiful picture of life within a very tragic reality. The story opens as Louisa Clark is just losing her six-year long job at a cafe due to its closing. Strapped with the task of finding a new job she is willing to take nearly anything and accepts a job as a caretaker for Will Traynor, a quadriplegic. For a while the story takes on a tone reminiscent of a romantic comedy. Lou is witty and uncharacteristically charming, while Will isn’t to be bothered, but seems to be warming up to her attempts. It isn’t long before the two create a unique bond and the story can only progress from there.
It is my intention here to give people an understanding of the book and the film as both separate and intermingling entities. From there, form your own opinions and conclusions. I will say again, in all honesty, I have yet to watch a film I enjoy more than the book.
There’s something absolutely wonderful about the written word and it’s ability to transform anything into something else. With the right adjectives a dingy flat becomes the perfect honeymoon hideaway, for example. Moyes is, in my opinion, an example of one of those writers. Someone that can see and make others see the beauty in anything. That’s part of what makes this story so powerful, it was authored by her. It’s difficult not to reveal too much about the story, so I apologize if I ruin something for you.
What I can say is this story is, more than anything else, about life and whatever meaning we choose to give it. Here you have this character, Will, who has been dealt a tragic hand in life and really cannot see anything worth living for anymore. Then you have Louisa, someone who has created a small and liveable life for herself. One that is filled with love and family and she is utterly happy. Her dilemma becomes about how do you make someone learn to love life when they have lost everything they once loved about that life. The truth, we realize, is everyone exists in their own reality and their own understanding of what life is and by some twisted fate we all need each other, but no one can make anyone else do anything. Acceptance, that that is okay then becomes the lesson of this story.
Moyes sets up the story in a way very similar to the typical three part structure, but she almost expands on that. Each bit seems to branch off into more, giving readers this lifetime of information. She does it creatively too, through thoughtfully placed flashbacks or family stories around the dinner table. It helps that these two characters are forced into each other’s lives and in turn find it much more bearable if they learn everything they can about the other. I will say that there is about twice as much to the book as there is to the movie. I thought this was a smart decision because there is no way they could have fit so much character and story development into a two hour movie. They actually cut out a character completely, but rightfully so.
I say the following with extreme caution. It is, in many ways easier to create depth in a character through a book than in a film. Granted, actors can create immense depth for their characters and the greats are known for this ability. However, there is nothing like reading the inner-workings of someone’s own mind right there on the page. There are no secrets, except the one’s they are telling to themselves. But to combat that you have the gumption of the other character’s that are willing to insert themselves into your hero or heroine’s lives and tell them when they’re being utterly stupid. A film can’t do this. Sure you have voiceover monologues, letter-reading monologues, etc. But those devices can only be used so much in a film before the film starts to seem less like a work of art and more like a means of relaying information. Take the film, “A Thousand Acres” (1997). A great film, but if I’d heard less of Jessica Lange and seen more of her plight, I would’ve felt more engrained in the story. Consider this, when you read a book you want to read the words, that’s the vehicle the author uses to drive home the book’s themes. When you watch a film you want to see the story, or else what’s the point of spending all that money in production?
Jojo Moyes uses the characters of Louisa and Will to tell this story of love and life. When they meet they are coming from completely different backgrounds and life stories--both of which Moyes is able to depict. Then meeting changes them both for the better, they are able to see the good in each other, even after all the things they have encountered that have broken them. For this, it is truly a beautiful story.
The film was laid out much more traditionally as a three-act structure. Beginning being the meeting, middle being Louisa’s attempts to persuade Will of the good in this life and the end being his decision. For film’s sake this was done very well. I was relieved that they didn’t attempt to cram in a bunch of things from the book that they didn’t really need. However, I would have liked to see more of Louisa’s character in the film. We missed the entire bit about why she feels so comfortable in their small town. Much of her connection to Will stems from his ability to incite this fearlessness in her.
Emilia Clarke plays this part beautifully and she undoubtedly brought a lot of the book’s Louisa to the screen. This did help when they missed parts of the story. What was most interesting for me was to see how different her acting was in this film as compared to “Game of Thrones”. The two characters are immensely different. The HBO show requires her to be strong, have little to no public emotion, and to in many ways be jaded. Meanwhile, Louisa is bubbly, colorful, and talkative, all while harboring some difficult family and personal troubles. Both characters have had to endure some pretty difficult things, but because they are completely different people, they have dealt with those hardships in totally different ways. The fact that Emilia was able to bring that out so effortlessly is wonderful and even more confirms my adoration of her.
Overall, this film was very standard in terms of cinematography and lighting, but where they really had the opportunity to make it its own was in production and costume design. So much of Louisa’s character is her costuming. Moyes rarely left out detail of Louisa’s clothing. She also made sure to describe the rooms and settings at length. She really was painting a picture for readers, so that they could place themselves in this reality. The film did take their own creative liberties, which I like, but they maintained the same qualities. Louisa’s dress was still as quirky, colorful and fun as I’d imagined. The annex wherein Will was forced to live became slightly more modern, but still unlike his personality in such a way that his uncomfort could be not only seen, but felt.
Overall, I was delighted by the film and would watch it again. I feel terrible for forgetting to warn my mother (who cried through most of the entire thing), but please be aware that this one is a tear-jerker. The ending was what got be, rightfully so, but the rest of the movie I was able to enjoy while laughing.
BOOK TO SCRIPT ADAPTATION:
I have touched on this throughout this review, but I would like to talk about it a bit more. One of the things that always scares me about making a film from a book, is the undeniable fact that there is just so much more to a book than could ever be put into a two hour film. In turn, things are cut, added, changed, all for the sake of making it more “film friendly”. In many cases this works well and the film turns out great, sometimes not so much. This was probably one of the most successful cases I’ve ever seen. Because, they weren’t concerned with keeping in their favorite parts, but instead with keeping in the essential parts. They cut an entire character! She wasn’t necessary, but she did play an integral part in a very enjoyable scene from the book. It would have been so easy for them to justify leaving her for the movie, but they didn’t and that, in my opinion, was smart. They also cut a tatoo scene, which was probably one of my favorites from the book, but it further complicated the story and the characters. It probably would have added questions that they didn’t have time to answer. This is partially why film is such a creative medium, we need to have many eyes on our work to give it the necessary checks and balances. Overall, I thought this adaptation was done smart and well.
Jojo Moyes has given us a great story about love and life, and I think it’s a story most, if not all people could enjoy. I’d recommend this to almost everyone I know, with the exception of the men and boys that I know would rather be out on a lake or doing something else exceptionally manly. Whether you prefer reading, or watching movies, or both, get out there and absorb this as I have, you won’t regret it!