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It’s a British charmer about love and quadriplegia. How else, or how at all, to introduce Me Before You? Despite familiar faults of the icky romcom — targeting your emotional soft spots while blurring the actualities of pain or disability — it’s still a winning movie. If it were a dessert, Jojo Moyes’ script from her bestselling novel would be an emotional crumble with cream and sugar. That the audience doesn’t bring its own rhubarb (let alone raspberries) must be because of the actors: Emilia Game of Thrones Clarke as the gauche teenage carer from a jobcentre and Sam Claflin as the handsome young wheelchaired millionaire. They, plus director Thea Sharrock, refuse to treat the story as a joke except where it is.
It’s surely a joke that the film is clueless about where it is set — even parades its cluelessness as if mocking the neverlands of trad romantic fiction. Claflin’s parents, Charles Dance and Janet McTeer, live in a stately mansion where the headed notepaper has a Grantchester address but the windows look out on picture-postcard Pembroke Castle. And the joke of Clarke’s taste in clothes — popsicle-coloured skirts, fluffy pink midi jackets, bee-stripe tights, as if from some thrift shop in Fairyland — is funny and sustained. She’s an Annie Hall for the millennial set.
For all that, we accept the stoically borne tragedy of the boy’s paralysis — the film’s shaping armature — even as love changes that stoicism from gruff and despairing to gruff and touched, or brushed, with joy. It’s a bit Rochester and Jane Eyre, simplified for the sighs of the multiplex. (The boy got his injury after a motorbike accident.) But Claflin underplays skilfully. The face’s stony impassivity in early scenes makes the eyes, when they sparkle at last, and even brim, all the more moving.
A romcom must have its “com” and Clarke provides. At times she seems to be playing Game of Jones. Bridget, that is. Maybe there was a crash course at the Zellweger School of Grin, Effervesce and Round out Your Vowels. Her young carer tries heroically to keep her nervous, scatty verve contained until love loosens the cork. Or lurve: except that this deftly crafted romance, even while addressing disability more as pop-fiction adversity than dark reality, just about earns the right to have the L-word spelt correctly.