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ALS drama 'You're Not You' pulls its emotional punch

 ALS drama 'You're Not You' pulls its emotional punch
Hilary Swank, left, and with Emmy Rossum in the movie "You're Not You." (Alan Markfield / Entertainment One Films)

As another way — that is, post-Ice Bucket Challenge — to bring attention to the neurodegenerative disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the ALS-themed drama "You're Not You" is certainly a valuable film.

It's unfortunate, then, that this earnest, hard-working adaptation of the 2006 Michelle Wildgen novel, scripted by Shana Feste and Jordan Roberts and directed by Tony Award-winning stage helmer George C. Wolfe, isn't a more satisfying dramatic portrayal of the disease and its impact.

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Hilary Swank is heartbreaking as Kate, a buttoned-up classical pianist who develops ALS. Kate's seemingly devoted lawyer husband, Evan (Josh Duhamel), becomes her part-time caregiver but needs additional help.

Enter Bec (Emmy Rossum), an unmade bed of a college student and aspiring rock singer. Though wildly unprepared to assist the highly compromised Kate, Bec is curiously — and quite riskily — hired. Let the odd-coupling, learning curves and emotional bonding begin.

The results are inevitable, often contrived and undeniably moving. As for Swank's physical transformation, it's nothing if not impressive.

But subtlety, whether in its characterizations, conflicts, themes or trappings, is not this film's strong suit. Evan's ill-conceived straying, Kate's and Bec's vile mothers (Frances Fisher and Marcia Gay Harden, respectively — and thanklessly), and Bec's wedged-in affair with a married professor (Julian McMahon) typify this lack of nuance. Conversely, Kate's simply drawn friendship with a fellow ALS sufferer (Loretta Devine, excellent) feels far more authentic.

In attempting to avoid excess sentimentality (starting with Kate and Bec's mutual toughness), the movie doesn't fully draw us in. An illness-inspired tale such as this could have been — perhaps should have been — a more unapologetic weepie: Think "Terms of Endearment," "Beaches," "Steel Magnolias." Hey, we're going to mist up anyway, at least let us enjoy it.

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"You're Not You."

MPAA rating: R for sexual content, language, brief drug use.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.

Playing: At Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.

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