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You're Not You

D: George C. Wolfe / 102m

Cast: Hilary Swank, Emmy Rossum, Josh Duhamel, Stephanie Beatriz, Jason Ritter, Julian McMahon, Frances Fisher, Marcia Gay Harden, Ali Larter, Andrea Savage, Loretta Devine, Ernie Hudson, Ed Begley Jr

Kate (Swank) is a successful classical pianist who begins to experience muscle spasms in her hands that affect her playing. Eighteen months later, Kate has been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and needs daily personal care. With her regular caregiver having left, Kate is being looked after by her husband, Evan (Duhamel), but he works full-time and is unable to look after her during the day. Kate makes arrangements to interview a replacement caregiver. The first interviewee is Bec (Rossum), a college student who, despite her lack of experience, makes enough of an impression on Kate to be hired. And despite a first day that goes less than smoothly, and against Evan’s objections, Kate determines that Bec should continue as her caregiver.

While Bec and Kate get used to each other and develop a bond, they also learn that Evan has had a short affair with one of the women in his office. It leads to Kate feeling that she’s holding Evan back; she tries to get Bec to take her to an assisted living facility but Bec refuses to go through with the visit and instead they go to Evan’s office where Kate tells him she wants a divorce. Meanwhile, Bec has relationship problems of her own: she’s been sleeping with one of her tutors, Liam (MacMahon), but while she wants to end things, he doesn’t. And she’s attracted the interest of a young man named Wil (Ritter), who she believes is too nice for her.

Kate and Bec meet another couple where the wife has ALS, Marilyn (Devine) and John (Hudson). Their positive attitude and obvious love for each other give Kate the boost she needs to deal with her illness more effectively and she becomes more outgoing; she even allows Evan to express his feelings and regrets to her. At Xmas, Bec’s parents pay a visit, but a heated conversation between Bec and her mother (Harden) has Kate feeling that she’s holding Bec back from living her own life. Consequently, she fires Bec and arranges for her mother, Gwen (Fisher) to look after her. When Kate’s breathing becomes so bad she ends up hospitalised, Gwen wants her to be put on a ventilator but it’s revealed that Kate has given Bec authority to make any medical decisions relating to treatment or care. Knowing that being on a ventilator isn’t what Kate wants, and against Gwen and Evan’s wishes, she takes Kate home…

You're Not You - scene

Adapted from the novel by Michelle Wildgen, You’re Not You provides pretty much everything you could ever want from a movie trying its very best to make having a debilitating disease seem not so bad. This type of movie – or indeed any type of movie where the protagonist faces a difficult personal battle – always strives to “accentuate the positive”, making the illness/life changing event/seemingly insurmountable problem/horrible setback the trigger that allows the affected character to display resilience and fortitude in the face of such a terrible obstacle. It’s wish fulfilment on an adversarial basis, where triumph of the will trumps, if only temporarily, the problem that can’t be beaten (or which will require a high level of personal sacrifice). And so it proves, with Swank’s ALS sufferer fighting her husband’s selfishness, her dwindling social status, her own growing physical disablement, and a script that coats everything with the rosy glow of female empowerment.

This is a movie that ticks all the boxes. Main character shows stubborn attitude to dealing with illness? Check. Secondary main character shows increased ability to deal with own issues as a result of spending time with main character? Check. Family and friends of main character show complete lack of understanding re: issue main character is dealing with? Check. Main character has “dark moment” where suicide seems like an attractive option? Check. These and more pop up throughout the movie, making it seem like a “greatest hits” disease movie, rather than the heartfelt drama it wants to be.

What doesn’t help as well is that we never really get to know Kate as a person. Sure, she’s an accomplished pianist, and sure she’s bright and funny in the way that accomplished people are, and sure she appears to have reconciled herself to the eventual outcome having ALS dictates, but all this has happened before Bec comes on the scene. Swank is an accomplished actress but even she struggles to make Kate more than a cypher to hang an illness on. And when her speech necessarily worsens, Kate – and Swank – becomes even less of a presence in the movie. Thanks to Jordan Roberts and Shana Feste’s superficial screenplay, there’s no real depth that allows Swank to adequately portray anything like the absolute terror someone must feel as their body slowly but surely shuts down. All we’re left with is a selection of expressions that show patient acceptance or occasional, brief disappointment.

Rossum fares better, but that’s because she has more screen time (and not because Bec’s problems are any more interesting than Kate’s), while Duhamel flits in and out of the narrative as the penitent Evan, looking sheepish and lost for the most part, and blander than a beige throw rug. The rest of the cast come and go without making much of an impact, and as we head toward the inevitable outcome, emotions rise to a level where heartstrings are plucked to predictable effect but still without any depth behind them. Wolfe – making only his second feature – adopts a slightly diffident, low key approach to the material that keeps the audience from getting too involved, and which stops the movie from being as dramatic as it should be. Ultimately, it’s a movie that flirts with the tragedy of Kate’s dilemma without fully embracing it.

Rating: 5/10 – too derivative of every other “disease of the week” movie, You’re Not You struggles to attain any dramatic traction, and wastes the talents of its star; a so-so attempt that is likely to leave viewers wondering how patient they have to be before they’ll be able to connect with the storyline.