So, I’ve recently (or not so recently) decided to actually learn something about film and not just write any bullshit that comes to my head about films I review. So this one is going to be better and maybe actually not sound like ramblings.
Unless you’re a cynic and/or are afraid of showing emotion, you’re aware that Me Before You is a fantastic movie. The character building, story structure, and all that good stuff is brilliant. But why does it work so well? If you have a functional knowledge of story structure you can pretty much parse out that Me Before You doesn’t necessarily follow the norm. Sure, it’s within the 3-Act structure but what I think makes this movie exciting and different is how the story develops within each act.
Act 1 runs until about the 25-minute mark. At that point, we see a superbly written transition that takes place over a couple minutes. It starts with the scene in which Will’s best friend and ex-girlfriend come to tell him they’re now together. The transition reaches full force when Lou snaps at Will for being a giant prick and he is able to accept her and eventually become friends with her. Now, the first act is pretty standard for the most part It sets the stage for the characters and their life situations, sets up some initial Main Character V. Universe conflict, and eventually brings the two main characters together. For this reason, that’s about all I’m going to say about it. Once we get into Act 2 however, that’s when things start to get saucy.
Typical Act 2 set up can usually be boiled down into two sections. The first is the “Fun & Games” part of the movie. Everything is going great for the characters here. In the case of romance movies, the girl or guy finally agrees to go out with the protagonist, the relationship is great, everyone’s having fun. This is followed by the second half which sets up a lot of conflict to be resolved in Act 3. The difference with Me Before You is that the whole of Act 2 is pretty much the Fun & Games section. The main conflict of Act 2 gets established very early on here, at about 43-45 minutes when Lou overhears Will’s parents talking about how Will wants to go to Switzerland and end his life with an assisted suicide. What’s more is that we also get the “Ah hah!” moment here as well, when Lou’s sister gives her the idea of doing a bunch of fun stuff with Will to try and change his mind. This is interesting because typically in 3-Act structure we find this moment more towards the end of Act 2 when all hell has broken loose and the protagonist feels like all is lost.
As the story develops, we see that Lou and Will continue to have fun and get along better and better. There is a slight call back to reality at around the 70-minute mark when we find out that Will seems to be still pursuing his plans for Switzerland. I think this is nice considering it actually gives us a sense of where Will’s at in all this without ever actually bringing it up. It’s after this section that we effectively get a second “Ah hah!” moment and are once again drawn into thinking maybe Will is changing his mind. During the wedding scene, Will finally agrees to go on a proper trip with Lou. This is important because it seems to function as a first introduction for their romantic feelings start bubbling up to the surface, while still retaining the integrity of the characters by not creating a cheating scenario. Throughout the rest of Act 2, everything continues to go by with everyone happy, bar Will having a little health trouble here and there.
We finally reach the Act 2 Climax when during the trip we have both a huge rise and a huge fall for the main characters. First, we have their romantic feelings coming in, full force and resulting in the big kiss. As the trip nears its end, however, we come to learn that Will’s mind has not and will not be changed about the assisted suicide. This causes a fallout between Lou and Will where, for the first time in about 60 of film, their relationship stressed and tested. Here is where we fall back into formal story structure for the most part. The big fallout between the characters is resolved in Act 3 after some wise words from Lou’s father, and she heads off to Switzerland to be with Will in his final moments. The film concludes with a scene showing us the finalization of the evolution of Louisa Clark as a character, finally being able to spread her wings thanks to a little help from Will.
So, why is this structuring cool, and why does it work? For me, it all comes down to the omnipresence of such overwhelming tension that it makes it unnecessary to have proper negative occurrences. The audience is so worried about whether Will is actually changing and what the end of the film holds, that their interest can be sustained on just the scene-to-scene minor conflicts. This is what opens up Act 2 to be jumbled up and moved around in the way that it was, and I think it’s brilliant.
To sum up, go watch this movie if you haven’t already. Aside from the great acting and brilliant story being told, you have a cool story structure to look forward to.