Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time: a benevolent woman nurtures a physically and/or emotionally challenged man back to his former self. Me Before You adopts this cozy setup, chucking the “beast” and replacing it with “paraplegic.” Its plot follows a formula and it does virtually nothing to challenge the inherent sexism of that formula, yet screenwriter Jojo Moyes deserves some credit. Adapting her best-selling novel, Moyes has written a good script with witty moments and the bones of a smart love story wherein two people inspire each other to contemplate more than how good they look kissing.

If only that script could’ve been rescued from the studios, who put a gloss on every inch of the screen, inserted “wrenching” pop songs and included, in one important moment, a leaf falling in slow motion from the sky. It’s nauseating, and it turns Me Before You into another shameless romance, riding off the success of such weepy adaptations as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Louisa “Lou” Clark (Emilia Clarke) is what plot summarizers love to call an “ordinary girl.” She’s supposed to be working-class but her glowing skin, perfect hair and flawless teeth point toward a 24/7 makeup trailer. Lou lives at home with her family, a wily bunch that cooks together and talks over one another about “no jobs,” as working-class folks are wont to do. Never mind that they too have perfect hair, glowing skin and flattering outfits. Me Before You is, if nothing else, a fantasy. In order to enjoy it, one must surrender to the unbelievability of it all or suffer 110 minutes of pure frustration at Hollywood’s addiction to artifice.

Desperate for work, Lou applies for a job as caretaker for a paraplegic man. After arriving at the man’s ridiculously posh estate, she meets Camilla (Janet McTeer), his regal giraffe of a mother. Lou’s skirt rips halfway through the interview and she tries to cover it with the ugly sweater she borrowed from her mother but it’s no use. Camilla sees the rip and wouldn’t you know it? It’s just the type of peasant-clumsiness her son needs. Camilla hires Lou on the spot and here we have another trope: that of the poor person’s exposure to the rich in order to inject their lives with the humanity it’s missing.

Camilla escorts Lou to her son’s private quarters: a condo retro-fitted to his every need as a disabled person. If only every wheelchair-bound individual were afforded this level of care. And here we meet Will (Sam Claflin), a bro forced to realize that life sucks when you’re not a bro. Before the paralyzing accident, he was a snowboarder, a surfer and a perpetual magnet of hot girl attention. Now that can’t do his favorite bro activities, what’s the point of living?

Will is clearly upset about his new life because he’s playing loud music and he has a beard. Oh no! Not a beard. Lou sticks around because she needs the money and she shows up to work in a rainbow of colorful outfits. She was going to go to study fashion but didn’t because her family needed her at home. It’s a minor relief to meet a heroine with at least a modicum of professional ambition. Will she pursue it? Don’t get excited.

Will exposes Lou to fine art e.g. Mozart and foreign film, and it’s striking to see an ode to high art couched in such low Hollywood spectacle. Lou is entranced by what she sees but any deeper probing into art of life’s ultimate meaning is left to Mozart and his music, which we hear for maybe 30 seconds.

The film’s drama centers on Will’s desire to die and Lou’s desire to save him. She wants to convince him that life is worth living, even if he can’t Jet Ski with hot babes. I’d say more but it’s too boring. This is a mainstream film that does not grapple with love, disability or mortality in any substantial way.

Feminists typically object to the “Beauty and the Beast” paradigm, and it’s easy to see why. The “beast” is combative—sometimes actually abusive—while the feminine nature of the “beauty” teaches her to put men’s needs before her own. A better version of Me Before You might have subverted this by allowing Lou to enter an upwardly mobile job or enroll in school but it chooses to end on a note of happy, glossy consumerism. This unwillingness to trying anything new, push any real boundaries, poisons whatever charms Me Before You has to offer. The tale as old as time is getting old.

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