With her Angry Birds eyebrows and toothpaste advert grin, Emilia Clarke can lay claim to the most animated face this side of Jim Carrey.
And she animates it, boy does she work it, in the romantic tragi-comedy “Me Before You.”
Every frame the “Game of Thrones” alumna is in, she’s furrowing her brow into a caterpillar catfight, peeling back her lips and grinning til it hurts.
And we feel her pain. Boy, do we ever.
“Me Before You” is a goofy, giddy, doomed romance and female wish-fulfillment fantasy.
Clarke plays a plucky working class lass hired as caregiver to a rich, handsome quadriplegic man determined to end his life.
Every girl’s dream, right? It’s not for me, but then again, it’s not exactly FOR me.
Sam Claflin is Will Traynor, dashing heir to a castle, extreme sports enthusiast, Londoner and ladies man.
Or that WAS his life. Before the accident. Now, he can’t do anything for himself, or seemingly anyone else. He’s gone through a string of day nurses. Chatty Louisa (Clarke) has just lost her job at the bakery. He lets his parents (Janet McTeer, Charles Dance) hire her. Mighty generous of him.
He’s brusque. What does he do all day?
“I don’t do anything, Miss Clarke. I sit.”
He’s rude, quick to dismiss her.
“Go and raid your grandma’s wardrobe or whatever it is you do when you’re not making me tea.”
Louisa suffers, shows up to work, bright-eyed and pony-tailed, in one outlandishly colored outfit after another, and tries to stay positive.
“Tell me something good,” she says, repeating a life lesson of her dad (Brendan Coyle of “Downton Abbey”).
Living in a castle, waited-on all day, with access to as much metallic electronica as his ears can stand, Will still cannot do that. He’s resolved not to live this way. Can this grinning cherub change his mind? As she pushes him into a series of adventures/trips?
Jojo Moyes, adapting her own novel for the screenplay, serves up the cliches, but almost no dialogue, points of view or plot points that smack of originality. Yes, throwing “The Bucket List” into the mix plays like a cloying afterthought.
Some films (and plays) about the suicidal (‘Night, Mother”) make us understand the morose eagerness to end it all. Others (“Whose Life Is It Anyway?”) are built on characters and performances of such intense brio that we question the decision, even as we understand what a circumscribed life would mean to such a person.
Young Claflin (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) makes this choice seem more out of the blue. Thinking about it, we get it. But his version of bitterness/acceptance has no real bite.
The script is out of balance, wandering off into “Educating Rita” territory as Lou is exposed to things only the truly rich (and class conscious) typically experience. Not good news for her boorish personal trainer boyfriend (Matthew Lewis).
The comedy clicks more than the romance. Because Moyes taps into something patronizingly stereotypical with this weeper. If boys fantasize about unearned, unlimited power of comic book characters, girls (the stereotype says) go all gooey at the idea of chaste (or not-so-chaste) romance with a matinee idol dangling the promise of fabulous wealth. Decades after “Pretty Woman,” Moyes has doubled-down on a cliche, even as she’s watered down the “sex for hire” come-on.
But first to last, there’s perky Ms. Clarke, wearing a more natural hair color than “Game of Thrones” allows, demanding that we grin with her, making us giggle at her character’s outfits and hoping that we suffer as she does when confronted with the depths of her challenge.
We do suffer. Not a lot. But we do.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and some suggestive material
Cast: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Charles Dance, Janet McTeer, Vanessa Kirby, Brendan Coyle
Credits: Directed by Thea Sharrock, script by Jojo Moyes, based on her novel. A Warner Brothers/New Line/MGM release.
Running time: 1:50