Sunday, July 3, 2016

Me Before You – Or what happens when material things are more important than character growth

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Me Before You movie (based on the book by Jojo Moyes) and quite a bit of a rant regarding the way disabled characters are used as plot devices.

Normally, I’m not interested in pure romance or sick stories, but this movie caused enough controversy online to make me curious … so I watched it, fully prepared to hate it. Well, I didn’t, but at the end of the movie, it just left me sad and it wasn’t particularly because one of the main characters had died.

But let’s start from the beginning. First, there’s Louisa, a quirky, awkward, bubbly, chatty, and not very bright young girl. Just look at the idiot she’s been dating for seven years. In fact, my opinion of her was set when she declared she was only interested in clothes. She has a peculiar fashion style mostly meant to give the movie some color, and part of me kept wondering how she could afford all those clothes when she had so much trouble with finding and keeping a job. She’s also very chatty once she gets going, so I totally agreed with Will when he asked her to shut up. I would have gone further than that and put it in the contract before hiring her, but that’s just me. The thing is, she’s not a bad person. She’s just simple, uneducated, and without aspirations. And we’re supposed to root for her? Forgive me, but I’d get bored after only five minutes of socializing with her. There’s nothing for me to learn from her or intellectually stimulating conversation to be had, and since I’m straight, her pretty doll face and nice figure wouldn’t keep me entertained for long. She has, however, one redeeming quality: she is kind and has a big heart. Unfortunately, even that gets ruined when she fails to save Will.

Will who? I don’t know, I still wonder who he is. He used to work in banking so we’ll assume a certain degree of intelligence, he’s decent looking, and his family is awfully rich. They own a castle for God’s sake! Quite the fairytale setting, except Prince Charming doesn’t come on a white horse. He comes in a wheelchair because he’s suffered a spinal-cord injury two years back and he’s a quadriplegic now. He’s also quite an ass. Here comes Louisa to the rescue to tame the beast. Well, not quite. He mops the floor with her repeatedly, and she has no say on the matter because she really needs this job. This could have turned into a cute romantic comedy, but the writer wanted more … I’m not sure what. As it turns out, Will has his mind set on assisted suicide and only agreed to postpone it six months as a favor to his parents.

From this point forward, the whole movie is a trainwreck. Louisa’s attempts to show him life is still worth living are useless, and he never changes his mind. No, even love can’t save this flick. So what do we learn from it? It’s perfectly okay for severely disabled people to attempt assisted suicide because life in a wheelchair sucks so much it’s not worth living. Will tells us that (what we see is a whole different story, but we’re supposed to be dumb and believe him anyway). And if a handsome, smart, rich guy like Will chooses it, what are disable people living on welfare, who might not even have a professional health care assistant or an electrical wheelchair, supposed to do? What is there left for them to hope for? From this perspective, Mrs. Moyes let down an entire community, and they’re quite vocal about it. So bravo to them!

My issue with Mrs. Moyes, who also wrote the screenplay, is more craft related. It really bothers me when in the name of diversity, some minority (whether is a person of color, LBGT, or a disabled character) appears in the story only to be used as a plot device. Because that’s what Will is. He’s not a fully-fledged character, we know close to nothing about him, he’s just the placeholder for the idea of a disabled character with a few shiny trinkets and nothing more. He’s so unimportant he wasn’t even given a character arch. Will never changes other than becoming a little more polite. He starts with one set of ideas and ends the same way because his writer never cared enough to make him ... more.

No one notices how he stares out the window all day long instead of doing something when he could do basically anything, given his wealth, even living in a tropical paradise with Louisa for the rest of his life. No one comments on his mental health. No one brings him a specialist to help him overcome the severe depression he’s obviously suffering. No, they accept it because if Will wants something, it’s his right to have it. And we should accept it along with them and be contented a disabled character was strong enough to get what he wanted, regardless of what that was, and move on.

Because this isn’t Will’s story. He was never good enough for Louisa, his only purpose was to leave her the fortune she so badly needed and make the audience cry. No, this is Louisa’s story. And she does have a character arch. She evolves from living in a crowded attic to buying expensive perfume in Paris. Because that’s everything all girls should ever want. How cool is that?

P.S. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see Will ride off into the sunset with Khaleesi astride his wheelchair? But for this to happen, someone needs to be brave and care for the characters more than for shiny things. Too bad it wasn’t the case.

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