Michelle Wildgen fell into something extraordinary with her début novel You’re Not You. See, over the course of the last several weeks the “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” has swept the nation raising money to fight what is commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. All the while, director George C. Wolfe quietly planned for the fall release of his latest film. Wildgen’s adaptation of You’re Not You charts the journey of Kate (Hilary Swank), a former advertising exec and classically trained pianist, who has been diagnosed with ALS. This film conveniently releases on the tail end of weeks of ice bucket challenge videos proliferating all of our social media –a notion that’ll obviously encourage a larger draw at the box office. Although, even that phenomena can’t change the fact that this relatively stale narrative has been regurgitated by the Hollywood élite for a good part of the last century.
In this version, Emmy Rossum plays brash college co-ed Bec lost in her own uncertain future until she serendipitously answers a caregiver needed advertisement. Kate and her husband Evan (Josh Duhamel) seek out a new caregiver after Kate fired the former one for treating her less human. Wolfe’s juxtaposition between Bec’s hard living and careless misanthrope and Kate’s upper middle-class socialite is not lost on his audience. The trailer suggests a feel good film about two women teaching each other about the little things in life before it’s too late but fails to showcase how unhealthy their relationships are with the men in their lives. Since cinema seemingly cannot divorce a good Bildungsroman narrative from the inclusion of (faux)romance, this film falls into the problem of being completely predictable. Smarmy Evan married Miss Perfect, the gorgeous, successful ad exec who is now a pile of bones he needs to transfer between bed and bathroom before straying elsewhere for love, while Bec dances around an affair with her married professor (Julia McMahon) and the bumbling idiot who’s crushing on her (Jason Ritter). Without the addition of these crippling relationships, this film would’ve been successful. Moreover, for anyone who’s lived in a cave in Tibet for their entire lives, here’s the spoiler: Kate dies. Seriously, she does. That’s what ALS does to a person. The audience in the screening I attended consisted of mostly blue-haired Betties out for a night on the town (mind you, it was a Tuesday) and the press. During the climax, I was surprised to hear several gasps before sniffling for the last ten minutes.
That emotion, in this reviewer’s opinion, was felt for Swank whose portrayal of Kate as the woman who lost everything she felt was important in her life before realizing what truly is important made this film. This depiction forces the audience to care deeply for this character as she struggles to complete routine chores like urinating. Her relationship with Bec begins with a poignantly silly trip to the bathroom that ends with them both giggling on the floor while Kate’s useless arm dangles in the commode. Swank’s Kate deteriorates right before our eyes as she not only physically frails but also loses her speech completely (Bec must eventually translate to those around them). Eventually Bec realizes what it means to care about anyone including herself while Kate realizes what genuine companionship truly is.
Beyond the careless male counterparts in the film, the cast is rounded out by Bec’s roommate, Jill (Stephanie Beatriz), who’s known for sprinkling chuckle-worthy one liners throughout the story and another ALS sufferer who becomes fast friends with Kate through their joined suffering played by Loretta Devine. The only man worth his salt in this film is Ernie Hudson, Devine’s caregiver, who fell in love with her. Hudson’s tenderness towards Devine and their deep emotional love is shadowed only by the platonic emotional connection Bec and Kate develop by the film’s finale. Ali Larter, for some reason, has top billing for this film but simply plays an annoying pre-ALS friend of Kate’s who is seen in brief snippets when Wolfe feels he needs to remind us of Kate’s former lush life. Also, Marcia Gay Harden swoops in as Bec’s mother in a forced five-minute performance where she attempts to remind Bec of how hopeless she is. But the joke’s on her; we’ve watched Bec develop into someone who is clearly no longer helpless.
Bottom line: wait for this one to stream during Oscar season. Watch Swank’s award worthy performance and enjoy the gorgeous piano-heavy score that echoes beneath the struggles and successes of these two women.
You’re Not You:[usr 3]
About You’re Not You
Synopsis: A dying ALS stufferer played by Hilary Swank befriends her caregiver played by Emmy Rossum. Both women learn a lot about living life and accepting death.
Directors: George C. Wolfe
Writers: Shana Feste, Jordan Roberts
Stars: Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum, Josh Duhamel, Loretta Devine, Ernie Hudson
Rated: R for sexual content, language, and brief drug use
Runtime: 104 minutes
Opens: October 10, 2014