You’re Not You is a tearjerker about a woman dying of ALS and how that affects the people around her. It’s predictable in many ways but it’s elevated by an excellent group of actors who create outstanding characters in this story about both living and dying.
Kate (Hilary Swank) is a happily married woman with a handsome husband named Evan (Josh Duhamel), an expensive home, and a grand piano on which she plays brilliantly. We meet them on the night they’re hosting a dinner party for friends. Kate sees the first signs of her disease. She drops a glass in the kitchen. When she plays for her friends, she loses control of her right hand. It twitches uncontrollably.
Jump ahead 18 months and Kate’s decline is evident. She needs help for everything. She still walks awkwardly with a walker. Evan takes care of her, with help from hired nurses while he’s at work.
Kate fires the nurse and interviews for new help. The person she hires is Bec (Emmy Rossum), a screw up of unimaginable proportions. Bec is really who the film is about, and Emmy Rossum does a brilliant job with the role. She slowly discovers herself and her true strength as Kate grows weaker.
When we meet Bec she tries and fails to sing in a bar. She picks up random guys for sex, most notably Wil (Jason Ritter) who falls in love with her and won’t go away. She’s a slob who’s incompetent at everything, particularly her own life.
Kate is stoic and resigned to her own dying. But she wants some control over her life and her death. She sees Bec as a way to have things her way. She sees Bec as trainable, teachable.
As Bec learns to care for Kate, she becomes a competent caregiver. Bec becomes a friend who protects Kate like a mama lion from her clueless friends and family. As Kate’s muscles grow weaker, her speech becomes harder and harder to understand. Bec translates for her. The title comes from one scene where Kate and Evan talk. Bec punctuates the translation with curses of her own (mama lion again) until Kate says to her, “You’re not you, you’re me.” Kate wants Evan to know what she has to say without Bec’s add ons.
There are many other people in the story. Frances Fisher plays Kate’s mother, a distant woman who is a lousy mother. Kate’s uncle played by Ed Begley Jr. is more loving and understanding. Marcia Gay Harden plays Bec’s prim and proper terrible mother who doesn’t like anything Bec does, ever.
While in water therapy Kate and Bec meet Marilyn (Loretta Devine) and John (Ernie Hudson). Marilyn also has ALS. They become good friends. They share Thanksgiving. Kate is surrounded by a small group of people who love her as she is – her family of choice.
Marilyn dies first. Kate goes to the hospital and sees her with a tube down her throat, a machine forcing her to breathe. Kate makes Bec promise they won’t put her on one of those. Bec promises, but has to fight everyone in Kate’s family about it when the time comes. Kate gave Bec her medical power of attorney, so Bec wins the argument in the end.
You’ll really need the tissues when Kate plays the piano for the last time with Bec’s help and when death finally comes for Kate.
There are many ways to die. When you have a slow degenerative disease you know death is coming. You want to go out your way. Kate wanted to die at home and she did with Bec’s help. It was a beautiful death. It was natural. It was they way Kate wanted it – no machines. She had someone with her who loved her.
Everyone knows Emmy Rossum can sing like an angel, so we know watching You’re Not You that eventually Bec will overcome her fear and sing one of her songs before an audience. That’s the final treat at the end, when Bec sings us out as the credits roll. Although you might still need those tissues as you listen to the lyrics of the song.
You’re Not You was based on a book by Michelle Wildgen. George C. Wolfe directed. Much of the story took place in Kate’s beautiful, ultra modern, chrome and glass home in Houston. The direction took great advantage of that setting to create beautifully framed scenes. Everything was open and well-lit. The direction raised the film into a bright and open realm where it was sad but not depressing.
One thing I wished for as I watch the film was a scene where Evan and Kate made love after she became ill. They couldn’t stand in the shower, as they did early in the film. But they could do what Kate could do. They could do that. After I saw the film I read Why Movies Should Feature Sex Scenes with People with Disabilities, which brings up several issues in addition to what I wanted to see in You’re Not You. Evan was painted as a jerk in many ways. A scene like that would have redeemed him a bit.