There are about three templates for the perfect tragic movie, and Me Before You doesn’t fit any one of them.
First there’s the Titanic/Steel Magnolias plot
This is the one where you can vaguely sense something bad might happen but it’s still a bit of a shock when people die because the film had given you a bit of hope for a happy ending. Then they rip it away from you. This shock value is what makes the movie so sad. The Fault in Our Stars falls under this category as well.
Second, the Marley and Me/Beaches plot
This is the one where you pretty much know a character is going to die but the film takes you on a journey (usually a lifelong one). You see the ups and downs in everyone’s lives, the epic highs and lows. You become so attached to these characters that when they die, it’s like losing a friend or family member of your own.
Third, the Marriage Story/The Way We Were plot
This is like the second type of tragic plot where the audience is taken on a journey through the characters’ lives. However, this one is particularly tied to a relationship, usually the demise of one that was poetically and potentially perfect… until it isn’t.
Me Before You definitely doesn’t fit the third option, but it doesn’t fit the other two either. It’s not the first because, at least for me, there is no illusion that Will Traynor will live. In fact, they never shut up about how he’ll never change his mind about assisted suicide. There is also no illusion that Louisa will change his mind in the end because you know that the movie is supposed to be tragic. If they wanted the audience to know Will had planned on assisted suicide from the beginning, they should have never had Louisa find out about it. Then she could totally be annihilated when he told her at the beach because, to her, it would have come out of nowhere, especially when she thought she made him happy.
Me Before You also does not follow the second plot type because there is no journey. We see pictures of Will skiing and we get maybe two seconds of his life before the accident, but mostly the movie just tells us about how much he misses his life. Show me why his life is now so unbearable. Show me what he’s missing so badly. I want to be able to put myself in his shoes and believe that I couldn’t stand to carry on either. You would have to completely restructure the movie around Will, not Louisa, and include at least 20 minutes of his life before the accident. I would introduce Louisa during her interview, after it is shown that no other caretaker helped Will.
I’m perfectly fine with a predictable movie as long as I can connect with the characters and feel a little something when they die. I felt nothing when Will died. Not one thing. The ending was kind of vaguely sweet when she went to his favorite spot in Paris, but still got no emotion from me. Not exactly the tragedy I was looking for. I was pretty disappointed after years of hearing people rave over how much it made them cry.
Basically, the lesson I learned from Me Before You was to find a rich, hot, but disabled man who is dying and make him fall in love with you so he’ll leave you a small fortune.