Imagine if You’re Not You was released right alongside when the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge videos were really starting to get popular. It probably would have made a lot more money, further helped people understand what ALS is, and might’ve been seen as the most socially relevant movie ever — hyperbole fully intended — had that happened. It’s not, though. It’s coming out months after the hype has died down.
That doesn’t make the film bad. Far from it; it actually has no impact on the film’s quality at all. Here’s the thing: Watching someone’s body degenerate due to ALS is not fun. There’s the possibility that people would have given it a look just based on the videos. “Oh, it’s related to those,” they’d say, and then watch it. Now, far fewer people are going to give it a chance. It isn’t a fun watch, so lots of people are likely to skip it. And that’s a shame, because it’s a relatively effective drama containing a couple of really good performances. It also looks like it’s trying to cash-in on the Ice Bucket Challenges, even though it was in production way before those came into existence.
Kate (Hilary Swank) begins to see the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) on her 35th birthday. She drops a dish, and she struggles to play the piano — despite being really good at playing the piano. The film then fast-forwards a year and a half later. Kate’s husband, Evan (Josh Duhamel), has to do almost everything for her. Kate needs a caretaker during the day, and is looking for a new one. In comes Bec (Emmy Rossum), a college student who doesn’t seem the least bit competent in caring for another human being. She gets hired anyway, against Evan’s wishes.
If the film was just about these two becoming friends, and Bec growing as a character, perhaps the film would have worked even better. But it’s not. The film is too overplotted for that. Evan has to be a cheating husband. Any parent-figure in the film has to be overbearing to the point of inducing nausea. There’s a painfully underdeveloped romantic subplot for Bec thrown in. And terribly fake-feeling drama creates artificial tension.
You’re Not You is a tearjerker. It’s effective at that. It contains enough scenes that will either make you cry or build to that point that it’ll be tough to keep the waterworks off, especially as it nears its inevitable end. You don’t want to see Kate die, but there is no cure for ALS, and we’re told early in the film that the average lifespan after diagnosis is 2-5 years. We know how it’s going to go, but it’s the journey and the lessons learned that make it worthwhile.
I don’t know if You’re Not You was supposed to get Hilary Swank another Oscar nomination. It probably won’t be seen by enough people to even warrant consideration, even though it is about someone with a disease, and those tend to warrant nominations. Swank is really believable here. It’s not an emotional performance, but it is a realistic one. You see her condition degenerate as the film goes on, and it’s heartbreaking. Her calmness throughout actually accentuates that feeling.
Emmy Rossum turns in one of her best film performances as an energetic college student who doesn’t really know what to do in life, but boy is she going to try her hardest not to mess up this job. Josh Duhamel is too nice and charming to let us even think he’s an adulterer, and that subplot either shouldn’t have existed or a different actor cast. Cameos and small roles come from Marcia Gay Harden, Ali Larter, Jason Ritter, and Frances Fisher. Loretta Devine delivers perhaps the standout performance. The acting is not a problem with You’re Not You.
You’re Not You is a topical movie, even if it’s coming out a bit too late to cash-in on that topicality. It’s a drama about a woman suffering from ALS, and also about the woman caring for her. It’s heartfelt and sincere, and will likely accomplish its goal of making you cry at the end — and a couple of times throughout. It’s overplotted, and works best when it just lets its characters interact instead of throwing curveballs at them. It has good actors who, when left to act, turn in great performances. You’re Not You is worth watching.