(Video on-Demand, September 2017) Everything old can be new again, and so it’s not a bad idea to dig up some of Daphne Du Maurier’s Gothic romances as inspiration for movies that set themselves apart from the usual cut-and-dried psycho-killer thriller swill that we see too often today. My Cousin Rachel is a thriller told in suspicions, the viewer going back and forth in believing that a character is out to murder our protagonist. Rachel Weisz is very good as the titular Rachel, keeping us unsettled throughout the film and being able to play menacing or charming at rapid intervals. She makes Sam Claflin look pedestrian in what is supposed to be the protagonist’s role. The production values are high, as we spend a lot of time on a credibly recreated 19th-century British estate. My Cousin Rachel is not a fast-paced film, but it does well in taking its time to present us with an unfolding subtle story. The ending hits harder than it should. It’s the perfect kind of film to watch on a cozy snowy evening.
(On Cable TV, March 2017) Much has been said about the rom-com and its demise, but there’s still a vein of opportunity in talking about the 2010–2016 wave of romantic dramas adapted from novels. How they feature damaged protagonists, look like comedies while behaving like dramas, take place over lengthy spans of time, and often kill their love interest. One Day, Love, Rosie, Stuck in Love, Dear John … although if we bring in Nicholas Sparks, we’ll be here all day. Me Before You fits squarely in this sub-genre, as a young free-spirited woman comes to care for a disabled suicidal quasi-aristocrat. Unconventional romance soon blooms, but we know it’s not going to have a conventionally happy ending. No surprises, but what about the execution? Here, unfortunately, Me Before You only manages an average score. While there are a few odd pearls in the result, much of it is played very obviously with few delights along the way. This is probably the best performance I’ve seen from Emilia Clarke, but it’s still not much more than okay—although there is a good rapport between her and male lead Sam Claflin. Pretty much everything else about the film is solid mediocrity, good enough to keep the worst criticism at bay, but nowhere near enough to make this interesting. The finale aims for a big bath of tears and settles for “yeah, we’ve seen this coming for the past hour or so.” There’s been quite a few better movies even in the recent rom-dram subgenre. There’s no need to go out of your way to see Me Before You.