Note: this review is featured on the Phoenix Film Festival’s website.
You’re Not You features two terrific performances from Hilary Swank and Emmy Rossum, actresses that elevate the predictable narrative through strong character arcs. The two people in the film come from vastly different backgrounds, both dealing with the repercussions of a disease as harrowing and life-changing as ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s). Kate (Hilary Swank) is a classical pianist that lives in a nice home in a stable relationship with Evan (Josh Duhamel), a man who takes his job seriously and wants the best for his recently married woman. Kate, however, begins to shake one day and realizes that something might be going wrong. The film jumps to a year and a half later, with Kate partially paralyzed and unable to move her hands while her husband takes care of her every waking moment of every day. She needs a care taker, so in walks Bec (Emmy Rossum), a whirlwind of a college student that needs to get her life in check before she decides to care for someone else. There’s work to do.
Bec tended in a nursing home a while back but aspires to be a musician. She’s great at starting songs and horrible at finishing them, whether that be through writing or actual performing. She drinks herself to sickness multiple times throughout the film, sleeping with men and running late often while never committing to any type of relationship. Yet her employment with Kate enlightens her. Kate struggles with day-to-day tasks that people take for granted, like going to the bathroom and eating. That takes a while for Bec to adjust to, particularly as she realizes that Kate had similar career aspirations before everything changed. Rossum and Swank sell these roles exceptionally well, even as the material treads overly familiar ground in the second half. Rossum plays a rather unlikable, uncontrolled brat when she is introduced, allowing for Bec to transform before our eyes as she sees the suffering within Kate’s life. Swank does a similarly affecting job as Kate, allowing her character to exude mental strength when she physically cannot do much and to demonstrate power as the disease rapidly takes control of her life.
Films about heart-wrenching ailments work only when they produce an unfamiliar narrative. Many films have attempted to address diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s but end up painting broad pictures about the victims and their relatives or families. You’re Not You mostly avoids those tropes by showing the immobility and weakened strength of joints stemming from ALS, using struggles at a dinner table with friends and walking down a hallway as signs of Kate’s crippling abilities. But the characterizations begin to grow more simplistic as the film progresses, and the narrative moves through the motions of melodrama rather than earning the emotion. It’s unfortunate considering it hinders the film’s power when it should floor the audience. Swank’s work here is exceptional and aligns with some of her strongest work, using transformation as a means of expressing change. It’s compelling. Director George C. Wolfe, best known for making Nights in Rodanthe, uses similar storytelling ploys to get maximum drama, and while that takes away from the film’s overall impact, the performances shine through. ALS is a serious, tragic disease, and You’re Not You enlightens us in an inconsistently moving way.
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)