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Emilia Clarke shines in polarizing 'Me Before You'
Sam Claflin as Will Traynor and Emilia Clarke as Lou Clark in the romantic drama "Me Before You." - photo by Josh Terry
ME BEFORE YOU 2 stars Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Samantha Spiro, Brendan Coyle; PG-13 (thematic elements and some suggestive material); in general release

Partway through Me Before You, a young woman named Louisa gushes after watching her first foreign language movie, confessing that even though she disagreed with the decisions made by the lead characters, she still loved the film.

The moment is foreshadowing for her character, and more importantly, for Me Before Yous audience. The decisions the characters in Me Before You make effectively turn the film from a charming drive in the British countryside into a head-on collision with Stonehenge. Its certainly provocative, but Me Before You is bound to leave a lot of moviegoers disappointed.

Me Before You is a love story about a unique and unlikely pair. Louisa Lou Clark (Emilia Clarke) is a colorful young woman in a remote British village who needs a job. Will Traynor (Sam Claflin) is a wealthy quadriplegic in the same village who needs an assistant. Its a remarkably similar setup to Rob Burnetts The Fundamentals of Caring, which was also based on a book and was featured at this years Sundance Film Festival.

But where Fundamentals of Caring went for a comic big brother-little brother road trip angle, Me Before You is designed to be a tearjerker, albeit with some sharp wit and charm.

Lou is a portrait of awkward, groping energy, slapping on a smile in moments of panic to mask the confusion in her eyes. She loves eccentric clothes and had aspirations of going into fashion professionally. But the tough economy has kept her tied to her struggling family, and shes equally yoked to her oblivious boyfriend Patrick (Matthew Lewis), who treats Lou as a glorified cheerleader to his ridiculous fitness obsession.

Up until the motorcycle accident that paralyzed him, Will was a work hard, play hard up-and-comer who was destined for greatness. So its understandable that when Lou meets her new client, two years into a virtual house arrest, he is bitter, sarcastic and dismissive. He had a relationship of his own as well, but since the accident, she has moved on to his best friend.

Its fairly obvious where things are going, so you might assume Me Before You is more about enjoying the discovery of its characters and learning to love lifes genuine beauties. But Lous own process of discovery leads her to uncover a secret about Will which, depending on your position on certain social issues, will completely shape your feeling about the film.

Me Before You is based on a book (author Jojo Moyes also wrote the films screenplay), so those who have read it will be well aware of what is coming. But unsuspecting viewers will be polarized by an ending that clearly wants to make a statement, even if that statement feels conflicted in light of the films own promotional catch phrases.

Any controversy over subject matter might have been dismissed if it werent for Me Before Yous many strengths, including Clarkes total perfection as Lou. Romantic comedies have been trotting out awkward-yet-cute leading ladies for decades, yet its difficult to come up with an actress who manages to embrace her role in such a genuine fashion.

Combined with some charming British wit and skillful execution, Me Before You will have you cheering for its leads. The press screening for Me Before You offered guests their own custom-branded boxes of Kleenex, and there were enough audible sniffles at the final credits to suggest they came in handy for many. Just what provoked the tears is a more personal question.

Me Before You is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material; running time: 110 minutes.