|Me Before You
|Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
|Approaching the Unknown
|As I AM: The Life and Time$ of DJ AM
Averaging exactly two stars through the first 102 movies of the year. It's got to get better, right?
The pick of this week - to my amazement - is Thea Sharrock's romantic weepie "Me Before You," adapted by Jojo Moyes from her bestselling novel. The fetching Emilia Clarke stars as Louisa Clark, a young woman of the British working class whose family is counting on her to bring home the bacon. She's thrilled, then, to land the job of caretaker to old-moneyed Will Traynor (hunky Sam Claflin), who became a quadriplegic when a motorcycle ran him down while he was on his mobile phone on a busy London street. Cloyingly sunshiny Louisa and grumbling, life-hating Will bond slowly and warily. (It's his mother, Camilla, who hires her, and when Will "fires" her, she refuses to leave unless Camilla concurs.) One day, Louisa overhears that Will has arranged with a Swiss "death-with-dignity" company to commit assisted suicide. He's given his parents six months to try - to no avail, he assures them - to change his mind. Louisa sets about filling the six months with bucket-list experiences, including an island resort getaway at which they share their first kiss.
The trailer put "Me Before You" firmly in Nicholas Sparks territory - I wasn't planning to see it until a free evening suddenly opened up - but it's much funnier and smarter than it looks. Claflin mines laughs from Will's grumbles and sidelong glances, and the way he insists on referring to Louisa as "Clark." Movies about young people so often treat their parents as either villains or saints that when parents are given nuance and dimension - "Gleaming the Cube," for example, or best of all Cameron Crowe's "say anything…" - I always appreciate it. Here, Camilla and Will's father, Steven (venerable Janet McTeer and Charles Dance), are real people grappling painfully with family tragedy and the chasm between their son's wishes and their own. The movie is also honest about financial matters, and how often one family member chooses to persevere in a troubling situation so that another's load may be lightened. "Me Before You" is a lot better than it had to be, a paragon of its genre. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Quick capsules on the rest: Andy Samberg shows big screen chops as Bieber-esque "Conner 4 Real" in the satire "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping." The movie's fundamental problem is the songs: not only are they not funny, they're not pop hit types. They smack of writers - Samberg with co-stars and co-directors Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone - congratulating themselves on clever ideas without stopping to think them through in context. Still, Mariah Carey's cameo - talking about how Conner's braggadocious "I'm So Humble" speaks to her ("I'm probably the most humble person I know") - won't be topped all year, and a parody of Harvey Levin's "TMZ" show had Icee coming out through my nose… I tuned out early in Mark Elijah Rosenberg's low-budget sci-fi "Approaching the Unknown," a sort of poor man's "The Martian" with Mark Strong as Captain William Stanaforth, who blasts off on a solo NASA mission to the Red Planet, and Luke Wilson as Louis Skinner, his primary contact at Mission Control. (Sanaa Lathan's part, as an astronaut following Stanaforth on her own mission to Mars, is so small it's closer to a cameo.) Here again the device of having the astronaut speak his thoughts aloud makes him come off as dippy… Athina Rachel Tsangari's "Chevalier" boasts a terrific premise: six men on a luxury yacht for a fishing vacation decide to play a game called "The Best in General," in which each scores the others on every aspect of their comportment, deportment, and overall lives. There are some laughs and some insights into the male psyche, but too many scenes fail to zing and it drags toward the end… Finally, another mild thumbs down for Kevin Kerslake's biodoc "As I AM: The Life and Time$ of DJ AM." It gives you a strong sense of who Adam Goldstein (a fellow Emerson Junior High alum) was as a person, and taught me a little something about DJ'ing (which brings my total knowledge up to a little something), but the second half - about his lifelong battle with drug addiction - becomes highly repetitive and causes the movie to lose a lot of steam.