Over the last handful of months the disease known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has seen a dramatic increase in awareness. A crippling disease that attacks a person’s motor neurons, it is a progressive illness that causes muscle weakness and atrophy throughout the human body, leading motor neurons to die off, and muscles to slowly become unusable. A horrible and currently incurable disease, it has seen an exponential increase in awareness thanks to the charitable act known as an “Ice Bucket Challenge,” where people post videos of them getting a bucket of ice water poured on them to bring people to donate to ALS research.
And, on a starkly smaller level, it is also central to the plot of a brand new, star studded film from Tony Award winning theater icon George C. Wolfe, entitled You’re Not You.
The film stars Hilary Swank as a woman named Kate, a concert pianist who has been diagnosed with the horrible disease. With her helpful and caring husband by her side, we see the toll that it takes on both her, and her marriage. However, as things seem to be unraveling for the former musician and her marriage, a bombastic and seemingly directionless college student named Bec crops up as a newly hired caregiver, hoping to take some strain off of the couple. Things, however, change, when a startling discovery is made that sends everyone’s life into a whirlwind. A moving, often charming, look at the idea of regret and self discovery in the face of death, Wolfe’s film is spearheaded by a trio of solid performances that turn this from a maudlin piece of melodrama into a solid, if still slightly ham-fisted, drama.
Wolfe, an icon of the stage, is rather superb with a camera as well. Quietly composed and perfectly paced for this type of drama, Wolfe’s film is a gorgeous piece of craft that is at times quaint and the next absolutely moving. Beautiful cinematography adorns the picture, with Wolfe’s camera never being used to take attention away from a moment, instead opting to add to either the drama or the humor of any given situation. The camera allows for each performance to have its time to breath, particularly in the final act when arcs are concluded with some very touching humanity and grace.
It also helps that the performances here are superb. While the names Hilary Swank and Emmy Rossum topline the film, oft-mocked thespian Josh Duhamel steals the film here, as the husband Evan. When it’s discovered that he has been having an affair with his secretary, one would imagine that the film would find a great deal of judgement when looking upon Evan, but instead Duhamel’s character is given a stark sense of humanity and care, proving that while it is in no way an excusable act, there is a real human behind this character. Swank is fantastic here, and will get a great deal of rightly-deserved attention for this performance, but she really comes to life when opposite Rossum, giving one of her best performances to date. Rossum has never been one to shy away from giving a percussive performance, and that natural energy really helps give the film a great deal of momentum that would be sorely missed if it weren’t thrust in this narrative. Supporting performances are given by names like Loretta Devine, Marcia Gay Harden and even Ernie Hudson, all of whom really up the ante here. It’s an actor’s showcase, and thankfully this cast is more than up to it.
Overall, while the film will find some rolling their eyes at the inherent melodrama of this narrative, those willing to give into this story will be resoundingly moved. It’s a heartfelt look into the journey of a woman facing death head on, and that of a woman in need of a kick in the bottom that joining her can give, and is an unsentimental and often comedic piece of filmmaking. A welcome surprise as we head into the fall film season, this is one that should not be looked over.