He’s handsome and rich and newly quadriplegic. She’s cute and spunky and totally broke, and she takes a job as his companion — not as his nurse, but as someone for him to talk to.
Predictably, it’s rough going at the start, but then things get better, and over the course of a few months they develop a bond, etc. You know this story. You know the emotions to expect and probably in the order in which they’re presented, and yet even so … “Me Before You,” based on Jojo Moyes’ best-seller, is just a little better than it had to be.
It’s not so much better that it escapes being what it is, a sort-of romance, liberally sprinkled with moments of corniness and emotional dishonesty. But ultimately, when it matters, it’s truthful about the people depicted, and who they are, and what they face.
Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) is Lou, a working-class girl in small-town England, and the movie makes no bones that, were young Will (Sam Claflin) not the victim of a terrible accident, he would never have given Lou a second glance. It’s actually rather interesting just how uninteresting Lou is. She is genuinely simple and not too bright, with no ambition or passion, but she has qualities of character, not remarkable qualities, but solid, decent qualities, that engage our attention.
Clarke is entirely charming in the role, except for one small but nagging thing: She has too much facial tension as she speaks, and it produces a commensurate tension in the audience. This is nothing you might particularly notice on a small screen, but it’s something you can’t miss when a face is blown up to 20 or 30 feet.
George Clooney had a similar problem when he first started making movies. He’d wag his head, as he’d done for years on TV, but suddenly entire audiences were getting motion sickness. He made the adjustment and went on to glory. If Clarke can just stop scrunching up her face, she can do the same.
The class aspect is a presence in “Me Before You,” but not in the heavy-handed (and ultimately sentimental) way that was present in the French film “Intouchables,” which had a similar story. In this film, Lou just hasn’t done anything. She has never been anywhere. She has never even seen a movie with subtitles. And so, introducing her to new things — not for the sake of educating her, but simply to show her new pleasures — becomes a source of mild enjoyment for young Will.
Within what seems to be (and mostly is) a sappy, romantic frame, Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair of the “Hunger Games” movies) is able to do some nice things with Will, and the movie ultimately doesn’t let him down. He remains, from beginning to end, an intelligent person, utterly realistic about his situation, and we always feel what he is thinking — that even when he is almost amused and almost happy, he maintains a certain British refusal to be anything other than realistic.
Claflin’s rigor and Clarke’s charm are counterbalanced by cringe-moments, as when, after years of unemployment, Lou’s father (Brendan Coyle of “Downton Abbey”) gets a job as a maintenance man, and the family goes into paroxysms of joy. In such moments, one gets the sense of the working class as imagined by the upper class, the idea that poor people aren’t just willing and resigned to working hard, but they’re absolutely ecstatic about it.
Still, unlike at least 90 percent of movies, “Me Before You” gets better as it goes along, and that’s something.
‘Me Before You’
Rated PG-13. Time: 1:50.