Director: George C. Wolfe
Starring: Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum, Josh Duhamel, Jason Ritter, Loretta Devine, Ernie Hudson, Julian McMahon
Has there ever been a better time to release a movie about ALS (except maybe six months ago)? With the ice bucket challenge having been the viral video sensation of 2014, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis hasn’t been so front and centre in people’s minds since Lou Gehrig famously told the Yankees faithful, “Today I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.” So enter George C. Wolfe’s tear-jerker You’re Not You.
On her 35th birthday, accomplished pianist Kate starts to notice a worrying tremble in her hand. It is the first signs of ALS, a neurodegenerative disease, and just 18 months down the track we find Kate wheelchair bound and requiring of constant care. Her doting and protective husband Evan advertises for a caregiver and from a pool of applicants Kate inexplicably chooses Bec, a directionless and horrendously underqualified young woman whose only credentials are that she cared for her ailing grandmother when she was younger. As Kate’s condition deteriorates, and her other relationships fall by the wayside, her friendship with Bec blossoms.
Built around this heartfelt relationship between an upper-class disabled person and their rough-around-the-edges carer, You’re Not You has definite shades of the hit French drama The Intouchables. However, in this case there are some serious holes in the storytelling and leaps in logic and motivation that you need to accept in order to go with the film. Chief among them is contrived nature of Bec’s hiring. It just doesn’t ring true. The only attempt made to justify the decision is that after a series of professional nurses Kate feels that Bec might be more likely to listen to her. Yet Bec is such a mess, so dysfunctional early on, that you struggle to believe she could last long enough in the job for their relationship to form.
But while there are definite problems in the execution, the strength of the film is its willingness to confront some of the hard questions about living with a degenerative disease like ALS, particularly the strains it can put on relationships and friendships. Kate becomes an outsider to her once close group of girlfriends. They don’t know how to relate to her. They want to offer simple comfort – “You’ll get better,” “It’ll be ok” – but knowing there is no cure, Kate refuses to let her situation be sugar-coated. At the same time, she is wracked with guilt for the way her disease has impacted her husband’s life.
A two-time Oscar winner, Hilary Swank is one of the finest actors going around and her performance as Kate is very impressive. She manages to not only capture the physical deterioration, as the disease progresses from affecting her movement to her speech to her breathing, but also the emotional impact of the disease, as this sharp-minded woman deals with the indignity of being incapable of caring for herself. What draws her to Bec, despite her many flaws, is that Bec makes her feel like a person rather than a patient.
This is a film that demonstrates that a love story doesn’t necessarily have to be a romance. The relationship between Kate and Bec is incredibly significant to both women. Bec becomes fiercely devoted to Kate, and caring for her gives Bec a sense of self-worth. For Kate, Bec allows her to retain a sense of her humanity.
There is a real predictability to You’re Not You’s storyline and on a couple of occasions the film tips into over-sentimentality, but it is none the less a satisfying weepy and features some engaging performances.
Review by Duncan McLean
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