Review: 'You're Not You' shows slow torture of ALS

By Fred Hawson

Posted at Nov 28 2014 11:36 AM | Updated as of Nov 28 2014 07:36 PM

Kate is a woman who has it all. She is beautiful, wealthy, a talented pianist, and had a loving husband. Bec is a young woman who seemed to have everything going against her. She is an irresponsible college student, always drunk, sleeps around, a failed musician.

But one fateful day, Kate was diagnosed with the debilitating neurologic disease called ALS, which left her progressively helpless with her personal care. When she was choosing her caretaker, Kate saw something in the mess that is Bec. From an awkward start, these two women, who are polar opposites of each other, get along, bonded and helped each other get through the kinks in their lives.

When ALS was mentioned as the diagnosis, you knew then where this film is headed. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and its devastating degenerative consequences, has been in the news very much this year because of the viral Ice Bucket Challenge. There will be no big surprises as to what will happen during the course of the story up to the end.

However, what will keep you glued to the screen are the performances of the two lead actresses: Hilary Swank as Kate, and Emmy Rossum as Bec.

I have not seen Hilary Swank for a long time already since her two Oscar Best Actress wins in the previous decade for "Boys Don't Cry" (1999) and "Million Dollar Baby" (2004). This film is somewhat reminiscent of the second film where she played a female boxer who had a spinal cord injury that made her quadriplegic.

Here in "You're Not You," the progress of the neurologic disorder is gradual, so Swank brought us on that slow, torturous tour of how it is like to have your body deteriorate even as your brain remains completely lucid. Her character Kate remained so magnanimous throughout her ordeal, making her character likable and sympathetic, even if we do not understand much of what she was saying anymore.

I have not seen Emmy Rossum in another role since her breakthrough as the ingenue Christine in the film version of the Broadway musical "The Phantom of the Opera" (2004). Her brash and slovenly character here is so different from the meek, refined Christine in Phantom. This effectively shows the wide range Ms. Rossum has gained over the years. Those who miss her singing voice will also get to hear it again here.

Here, we will also see the various reactions of different people around Kate and Bec about their unusual arrangement and friendship -- their parents, the men in their lives, their friends -- which kept things interesting. You will reflect about your own reactions if one of your loved ones should get this difficult affliction. On Kate's side, Josh Duhamel plays her controlling husband Evan. Frances Fisher plays her mother. Ali Larter and Andrea Savage play her fair-weather friends. On Bec's side, we have Marcia Gay Harden who plays her cold but concerned mother. Julian McMahon plays her sleazy professor she fools around with. Jason Ritter plays her dorky but persistent suitor.

This film may be hard to swallow in several parts because of the intensity of the depressing dramatic situations. The psychological reactions of the characters do not seem too typical, which is also good as they gave the material some unexpected surprises, though some do not feel realistic. However, the central performances of Swank and Rossum were so effective that empathetic audiences will be moved, maybe even to tears. 7/10.

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."