It wasn’t that long ago that everybody was posting on Facebook vids of themselves being dowsed by a bucket of iced water. It was to raise money for research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an incurable degenerative disease.
In George C Wolfe’s heart-wrenching and intelligent movie, Kate (Hilary Swank) has the first intimation that she is suffering from the condition on the night of her thirty-fifth birthday. A concert pianist, her hands let her down as she is playing a favourite piece by Chopin. The story then jumps ahead some eighteen months. Kate’s symptoms have worsened and, against the wishes of her drippy husband and snooty parents, she is about to employ Bec (Emmy Rossum), an uninhibited and unqualified New York party girl, as her aide. It requires a bit of a leap of faith to believe this opening scenario, but once past it the relationship that grows between Kate and Bec is entirely convincing.
It is a quiet film, free of the hubble and bubble of big-budget mainstream dross, but its tender grip intensifies as the inevitable approaches. In a challenging role that allows for neither glamour nor indulgence, Swank is as good as I have ever seen her.
The surprise packet, however, is Rossum, whose raw energy and uncanny ability to empathise with her character and draw from Bec such a willingness, despite her natural tendencies, to give herself over entirely to the care of Kate is profoundly moving. In the end it is her story, for the point that Wolfe is making is that it is often those left behind after loss who have made the most radical journey. Love, especially when it sidles into one’s life unannounced and unexpected, can devastate as easily as it can elevate.
Bec reminds us that the heart will not be conquered by the decrees of others.
Poignant and unafraid to confront grief without the trappings of maudlin sentiment, the girls’ devotion to each other is its own reward.
Don’t miss it.
~ John Campbell