3-Hankie Weepie earns them by dealing honestly with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Excellent performances by Hilary Swank as the “perfect” woman stricken by a catastrophic diagnosis and Emmy Rossum as the rebellious college student who becomes her caregiver (and then grows to become more).
Could have been awful, so kudos to director George C. Wolfe plus screenwriters Shana Feste and Jordan Roberts. Based on a novel by Michelle Wildgen. (JLH: 4.5/5)
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In the opening scenes of You’re Not You, gorgeous “Kate” (Hilary Swank) lives in a lavish home with her incredibly handsome husband “Evan” (Josh Duhamel), and they appear to have it all.
It’s Kate’s 35th birthday and they are expecting dinner guests. But while they are flirting over perfectly placed appetizers, Kate inadvertently knocks a glass over. Maybe everything really isn’t quite as perfect as it appears to be? Later, her friends persuade Kate to play for them at her grand piano, but midway into the Chopin her hands unexpectedly tense up. The music turns dissonant; time stops; and then these ominous words appear in white type on the all black screen: “18 months later”…
That breaking glass was a symptom of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), best known in the USA as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. “18 months later,” Kate is in a wheelchair and Evan has spent the interim period working every day and taking care of Kate every night, consistently reassuring her–and himself–that everything is going to be fine. Kate, meanwhile, has tried her best to stay calm and controlled, but she knows that ALS is a progressive, degenerative illness that has no cure. After 18 months of living with a fixed smile on her face, Kate finally asserts herself–seemingly for the first time–by firing her stifling caregiver. Evan is aghast. Who will care for Kate while he is at work? Kate firmly announces that is her problem, and she sends Evan away.
The time has come to meet “Bec” (Emmy Rossum), a college student who drinks too much, takes drugs, screws around with married professors, and lives her life in total disarray. Bec says she wants to be a singer, but when she finally gets an opportunity to show off her talents, her nerves get the best of her. She ends up drunk and humiliated, hiding out in the Ladies Room instead of singing on the stage.
Then Bec sees Kate’s ad, so she applies for a job as Kate’s caregiver. When Kate asks Bec if she has any qualifications, ferocious-looking Bec turns surprisingly gentle. Yes, she explains, she cared for her grandmother in a nursing home, so she knows what to do. Evan is appalled, but Kate is impressed. Bec is her choice, and she’s prepared to accept the consequences of that choice. Kate truly believes she has finally found the right caregiver.
For the audience, Act II becomes a crash course in personal care. Most women will probably recognize all the coaching required. Many men probably won’t have a clue. Kate must teach Bec how to do almost everything around the house. These personal touches are done with warmth, and shed light on the realities of Kate’s disease. Kate calmly and carefully gives Bec cooking lessons, then just as calmly, she tells Bec how to help her on and off the toilet. As Bec gains in confidence, Kate slowly takes off her saintly mask and stops pretending all she can do it acquiesce in the face of her horrible illness.
Every cast member goes beyond stereotypes, making their characters really feel like living, breathing people. Duhamel is perfectly cast as Evan, and Jason Ritter plays the role of Bec’s love interest. There are also wonderful, albeit limited, scenes with Francis Fisher as Kate’s mother and Marcia Gay Harden as Bec’s mother. They both play versions of “the mother from hell,” and yet both actresses are compelling.
You’re Not You might sound predictable, but it was an incredibly moving, well-done film and that’s a tribute to both lead actresses as well as the team behind-the-scenes. I love Hilary Swank, but although she’s very good, she’s the “ill character,” so most of her trajectory revolves around her disease. You’re Not You therefore becomes a showcase for Emmy Rossum who, much like the young Tom Cruise in Rain Man, is the character who must subtly change, evolve, and become a full and responsible adult.
I cried my way through most of Act III, and I did so gratefully. Swank and Rossum took me on an emotional journey and when Rossum finally did her big song at the end, my heart told me she had totally earned it. Brava!
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (10/08/14)
Top & Bottom Photos: Emmy Rossum as “Bec.”
Middle Photo: Emmy Rossum as “Bec” with Hilary Swank as “Kate.”
Photo Credits: Alan Markfield
Q #1: Does You’re Not You pass the Bechdel Test?
The heart of the film has to do with the relationship between Kate and Bec, which begins in dependency but grows in depth as both women find it a source of mutual sustenance. Conversations about men–when they occur–are almost always on the periphery.
This become clear when the two mothers–Kate’s mother (Frances Fisher) and Bec’s mother (Marcia Gay Harden)–make their short but significant contributions in Act III. Both of these women are well-intentioned and both of them think they are fighting for their daughters, but neither of them has learned to listen.
Kate and Bec both grow by listening to–and being heard by–each other. Ultimately, by validating the voice Kate never dared to use before, Bec finds her own true voice as well.
Q #2: Who is Shana Feste?
I have seen four movies by screenwriter Shana Feste and she’s gotten better and better with each one. Her first film, The Greatest, had a terrific cast, but I absolutely hated it. The second, Country Strong, with Gwyneth Paltrow, had elements I really liked, but I still couldn’t recommend it. The third was the remake of Brooke Shields’ Endless Love and I thought it was quite good. But in this recent film, You’re Not You, Feste has given her actors good, strong material.
It was right to have the opening scene cut abruptly to 18 months later instead of tracking Kate’s gradual decline. The acting only added to the already-strong screenplay. I haven’t read Michelle Wildgen’s novel, but even if it was good, I’m sure there were still ways to botch the adaptation. Me, I think Shana Feste is learning her craft, and this is her best yet.