After last year’s Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Ice Bucket Challenge spread awareness for the scarcely recognized motor neuron disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Entertainment One Films released their latest heart–wrenching drama: “You’re Not You.”
Based on the fictional novel by Michelle Wildgen, “You’re Not You” tells a story of intimate strangers and their impact on each other’s lives.
Beginning with an ominous prologue, an upper–class Houston couple, Kate (Hilary Swank) and Evan (Josh Duhamel), are introduced as they host a cocktail party in their impressive modernist home. All seems to be going well until Kate, a former concert pianist, takes to the piano keys and finds her right hand shaking uncontrollably.
Flash forward a year and a half later, Kate has officially been diagnosed with ALS, and, as her disease rapidly advances, around–the–clock care has become a necessity.
Watching the progression of Kate’s disease almost immediately provokes a sort of empathetic connection between the character and the audience.
After firing her previous nurse because she made Kate feel “too much like a patient,” she takes a leap of faith in the opposite direction, and decides to interview an unemployed college student with no relevant experience named Bec (Emmy Rossum) to fill the position of a new caregiver.
More than an unlikely caregiver, Bec is depicted as a barely functional borderline sociopath in the film’s opening scenes, which only adds to the duo’s subsequently impractical relationship.
As the film progresses, however, Bec becomes a more reliable character and teaches Kate to voice her simmering frustrations, not only towards her lack of abilities due to ALS, but also her husband, who has initiated an affair with a co–worker because of Kate’s disability, taking a toll on their relationship.
With the unwavering support of Bec, Kate learns to cope with the new difficulties of her everyday life. At this turning point, Kate’s life shifts from weariness to unwavering optimism and clarity.
“You’re Not You” abandons the cliche and instead provides audiences with a psychologically complex tale of a young woman, who, under the most emotionally challenging of circumstances, begins to learn who she is and what she truly wants to accomplish within her lifetime.
The acting and screenplay is consistently believable all around, and, although the quality of the characters can vary wildly, the cast of “You’re Not You” seems to pull through and make it work.
Swank’s portrayal of her character’s physical decline is depicted with incredibly unwavering detail, even up to the point where she becomes virtually unintelligible as ALS compromises Kate’s ability to speak. Although Rossum tends to overplay Bec’s lewd behavior in the opening scenes, she becomes increasingly effective as the character gradually settles down.
Perhaps the most touching and deeply unsettling aspect of this film is, not the portrayal of ALS itself, but rather the sheer reality of it.
Throughout the scenes, Swank excels at subtly underplaying the pileup of indignities that her disease inflicts upon her, and her voice continues to become even less decipherable as her condition worsens.
Whether it be Kate’s inability to flip through the pages of “Elle” magazine on her own, or her deteriorating speech, Swank makes it evident that her charater is declining.=
Despite the occasional scenes of moderately cliche suffering, it’s undoubtedly Kate’s look of resignation as she struggles to turn the pages of a magazine, or her quiet discomfort as strangers attempt to shake hands, that truly conveys the brutal reality of ALS.
You’re Not You” becomes a love story of sorts. Not a romance, but Kate comes to depend on Bec, and Bec feels a sense of self-worth for perhaps the first time in her life. They cling to each other in the storm.
Ultimately, “You’re Not You” offers a fresh and intriguing look into caregiving and emotional risks and rewards each person takes and receives.
With the help of the well–developed and believable characters, viewers become immersed in Kate and Bec’s heart–wrenching tale, which makes for a vividly depicted look into the lives of those that ALS touches.