The makers of the unabashedly emotional British drama “Me Before You” want us all to have a good cry at their film. Nothing particularly novel there, save maybe for the promotional tissue boxes being handed out at a recent preview screening. What’s somewhat unique about Jojo Moyes’s weepie, which the writer scripted from her 2012 bestseller, are the provocative dilemmas it explores to coax those tears.
This story of the relationship between a quadriplegic man and his caregiver is hardly the unvarnished version — it’s got less in common with “The Sea Inside” than with Julia Roberts’s “Dying Young.” But it’s intriguing to see the bits of ambitious ethical weightiness mingled with the movie’s gloss.
Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) nimbly swaps toughness for cuteness as Louisa Clark, a small-town English girl — more like “New Girl” — with a ready smile that’s outshone only by her pixieish wardrobe. With her entire blue-collar family (including dad Brendan Coyle, “Downton Abbey”) struggling in a tough economy, Lou responds to a long-shot job listing seeking a caregiver. The patient: Will Traynor (Sam Claflin, “The Hunger Games”), a cultured, high-achieving hunk whose carpe-diem spirit has been crushed by the accident that put him in a wheelchair.
Lou has zero experience, but all that Will’s wealthy parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance) are looking for in a new hire is patience and a sunny disposition. They’ve already got medical support from visiting therapist Nathan (Stephen Peacocke, quietly credible). What they need is someone who can tolerate Will’s bitterness, and maybe break the ice before it consumes him.
Director Thea Sharrock (PBS’s “Call the Midwife”) and her well-paired leads do nice work of growing the relationship organically. While the two eventually bond over Will bemusedly encouraging sheltered Lou to broaden her horizons — blimey, subtitles! — that doesn’t mean she’s radically changing his outlook. And while Lou is gradually charmed by Will, she does offer gently realistic pushback to his air of knowing best.
Sharrock is a sucker for saccharine music montages, and a scene with Will and Lou attending his ex’s wedding similarly pushes the drama over the top. But even here, we get Joanna Lumley smartly cameoing as a character who cuts through the sentiment. Fabulous — much like a weepie that aspires to more.
ME BEFORE YOU
Directed by Thea Sharrock. Written by Jojo Moyes, based on her novel. Starring Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Stephen Peacocke, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 110 minutes. PG-13 (thematic elements and some suggestive material).