The romantic comedy/drama You & Me is driven by a premise that, by itself, is an attention-getter: it follows the relationship of a deaf woman and a blind man as they attempt to build a connection that transcends their disabilities. That the actors who play these two characters are, respectively, deaf and blind themselves makes the film an even more unique prospect.
Thankfully, though, there’s more to those conceptual and casting choices than their immediate “sounds interesting” factor. You & Me is often incredibly perceptive in depicting the everyday challenges, perceptions, and little annoyances that its lead characters face, and its authenticity and good intentions are infectious. The film is often so strong with the little things – it has an eye and mind for details, likely inspired by its star’s real lives, that ring both authentic and resonant – that it’s able to recover even when its bigger-scale gestures fall flat.
The overall story is largely standard girl-meets-boy stuff. We first meet author and literary scholar Ella (Hillary Baack, who co-wrote the film with her husband, director Alexander Baack) as she adjusts to a new life in California; not long after, she encounters Tony (Paul Guyet), an amateur musician who’s learning to cope after being stuck blind in an auto accident. Their initially platonic relationship develops into a tentative will-they-or-won’t-they romance and eventually blooms into something much deeper, with variations on the standard rom-com tropes (awkward semi-dates, meeting the parents, etc.) along the way.
“…You & Me nevertheless finds its strengths in the small moments that it plays for both humor and emotional effect.”
No great shakes story-wise, You & Me nevertheless finds its strengths in the small moments that it plays for both humor and emotional effect. From a rather sad “meet-cute” in a coffee shop (where the characters don’t actually meet each other at all) to Ella’s sarcastic explanation of her speech patterns (“I’m from Estonia”) to moments when Paul’s upbeat attitude toward his recent blindness breaks down, the film finds truth, laughs, and poignancy in just letting these characters be.
If the actors are simply playing some variation of themselves, it doesn’t show, and they’re able to create real characters out of Ella and Tony that are nicely fleshed-out throughout. Baack (who appeared in Zal Batmanglij’s The East) is an uncommonly charming and strong-willed rom-com lead, Guyet has both the physical stature and the boyish affability of a Jason Segal character, and – as it’s supposed to be in these types of movies – there’s a clear sense that they’re perfect for each other, even if the characters don’t always see it for themselves.
With such likable performances and so many perfect little grace notes, You & Me should be a success all-around, but it stumbles over a lot of the big-picture stuff. The film’s pacing and structure is off, with scenes that go on too long without any real dramatic or comedic payoff and inexplicable ellipses in what should be some of its most important sequences. Ella and Paul’s courtship, which should be the centerpiece of the movie, is too often skipped over in favor of scenes that only marginally build our understanding of their feelings about one another, and because of this, some of the major dramatic moments feel unprepared for and unearned. The poorly set-up third act throws in a wrinkle that temporarily shifts the tone into much heavier territory and doesn’t quite fit with what precedes it, though it does set up a lovely closing scene that’s bound to elicit a tear or two (hundred).
D.D. Jackson’s overbearing musical score is a further liability, laying the strings and syrup on thick in scenes that would be better served by something subtler. There are a few original songs performed also – Paul, after all, finds his creative outlet in music – and they’re not always a welcome addition. There’s a really sweet one late in the game that nicely serves the story and provides a touching
moment of catharsis, but an earlier bit in which Paul and Ella sing a duet about their relationship that basically recaps the movie up to that point is cringingly on-the-nose.
For all its faults, though, You & Me is absolutely worth a look. Lots of films have featured deaf and blind characters, but precious few have made the effort to take as honest and multifaceted a look at their day-to-day lives as this one does. It’s revealing and perceptive and often quite funny, and if its storytelling isn’t always as sharp as it ought to be, the leads and their characters are never less than engaging; it’s hard not to come away from this movie wanting to see lots more of them.
You & Me (2017). Directed by Alexander Baack. Starring Hillary Baack, Paul Guyet, Brendan O’Malley, Sally Struthers, Bill A. Jones, Cass Kroener
3 ½ stars out of 5
Get more information on the official site for filmmaker Alexander Baack and You & Me.