With the burden of an invisible disability and the expectations of her well-meaning father, an upcoming job interview might just be a struggle too far for a young lady suffering from CFS/ME in This Is ME.
For anyone who has suffered, or still does, from a debilitating illness, This Is ME will be a familiar and difficult watch. CFS stands for chronic fatigue syndrome which is also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis or M.E. and is a medical condition characterised by long-term fatigue and other persistent symptoms that limit a person’s ability to carry out ordinary daily activities.
This is ME follows a young girl called Ally (played by Lily Walbeoffe) and her daily struggle to just get through the day. Specifically focusing on today’s attempt to get across town to attend an important job interview. Writer/Director Josh Pickup calls upon all of his experience, having dealt with this very same illness himself a few years ago, in writing a script that is in equal parts interesting, moving, and completely uplifting.
Pickup uses the ‘spoon theory’ to frame his story around the lead character’s mental health. Spoon theory is a disability metaphor used to explain how much mental and physical energy each person with these illnesses has for each task they do that day. One spoon represents one unit of energy.
Pickup emphasises this by showing Ally wearing a necklace of spoons and in a quick but brilliant scene where Ally lines up post-it notes and begins to place the number of spoons needed for each chore. Brush teeth takes 1 spoon. Get dressed takes 3 spoons. Walk to bus stop needs 4 spoons. Once all the spoons are gone the individual can only replenish their energy by recharging, resting. It’s such an effective scene, even though it only lasts for seconds because you know instantly that it is absolutely true.
Lily Walbeoffe who plays Ally gets through some great work in this movie, almost all of the takes in This Is ME are playing off her reactions to what is happening to her, while her dialogue is all about what is going on around her. It’s a lovely, truthful performance in which she emotes the anger, frustration, and helplessness of her character’s situation with great ease.
We are then introduced to Ally’s dad (played by Ben Gardner Gray) which is a small but pivotal role. Gardner Gray manages to create a completely three-dimensional character who we recognise instantly in a short period of time. Dad, of course, loves his daughter immensely but he doesn’t understand her problems; he does his best and means well, but his happy-go-lucky demeanour is completely at odds with Ally and not what his daughter needs.
The appearance of the dad also allows Pickup to show us more of Ally’s illness, as he and the sound mixer Tobia Magalutti use muffled noises to show us how she has trouble deciphering seemingly simple requests. Likewise, as she walks to her job interview, Pickup and his DoP Liam Bracey use an occasional fish eye lens and it is successful in symbolising to us what is happening to Ally internally is also being mirrored externally, as the wider world seems to get smaller, more enclosed and begins to smother her. The music is also very fitting, helping to stir the emotions and pluck at the heartstrings.
This Is ME is a very moving portrayal of an illness that doesn’t garner as much public exposure as others, despite it affecting 200,000 people across the UK and over 1 million people in the US. It’s a very interesting film that, throughout its 9-minute runtime, manages to educate as well as entertain. Well written, well-directed, and well-acted, This Is Me deserves your time, and ME is an illness that deserves your empathy.