Go Now (United Kingdom, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Few screen romances are as touching, as tragic, and as life affirming as the one shared by Nick (Robert Carlyle) and Karen (Juliet Aubrey) in director Michael Winterbottom's Go Now. While the film is ultimately about the effects of multiple sclerosis upon both a body and a relationship, Go Now is not the exercise in depression the material might make it seem to be. Winterbottom, who took an equally unsentimental approach to his adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure, avoids numerous melodramatic pitfalls on the way to making Nick and Karen's experiences with the disease real, believable, and manipulation-free. By including a copious amount of lowbrow humor and occasionally using black-and-white freeze-frames with amusing captions, Winterbottom never allows Go Now to become too much of a downer.

The film starts at the beginning -- the beginning of Nick and Karen's relationship, that is. They meet one night at a pub while Nick, a construction worker with a passion for soccer, is out having drinks with his best friend, Tony (James Nesbitt), and Karen is in the company of her roommate, Paula (Sophie Okonedo). While Tony aggressively pursues sex with Paula, Nick and Karen connect in a quieter, more meaningful way. After a few chance meetings on the street following their initial encounter, they start dating. The relationship quickly becomes serious, and the two move in together. Only then does Nick's disease begin to assert itself. In this way, Winterbottom allows us to get to know the characters before introducing complications.

It starts slowly, with minor symptoms: double vision, numbness of the hands, and a lack of bladder control. Nick goes for tests and is diagnosed to have MS. Go Now doesn't use a didactic, "movie of the week" approach to the subject. It doesn't explain what MS is, why people get it, or how they can live with it. Instead, the film concentrates on showing the condition's debilitating effects on Nick, and, equally important, on his perfectly-healthy partner. It's rare for any motion picture about a disease to take such a blunt, uncompromising look at how it can erode the foundation of even the most loving relationship. Sunk in frustration and self-pity, Nick frequently lashes out at Karen, torn between wanting her to leave him alone in his misery and needing her to help him. For her part, Karen loves Nick dearly, but his moodiness threatens to drive her into the arms of another man, if only for a brief respite from Nick's rancor.

Another interesting aspect of Go Now is how it addresses the quandary that Nick's friends find themselves in after he has been stricken. They're caught between walking on eggshells and trying too hard to make it seem like he's still just "one of the guys." None of them walks the line adeptly, and one of Tony's jests cuts Nick deeply. Still, the difficulties Nick's friends have adjusting to his condition are minor compared with the conflicted emotions that Karen experiences.

The acting in Go Now is superlative. Robert Carlyle, who was good in The Full Monty and Trainspotting, is amazing here, using body language, facial expressions, and vocal intonations to convey his character's experience to the audience. Juliet Aubrey (Dorothea Brooke in the 1994 BBC version of Middlemarch, with a small part in Winterbottom's Welcome to Sarajevo), whose portrayal of Karen is just as forceful and multi-faceted, never allows herself to be eclipsed by Carlyle. Even in the most dramatically powerful scenes, she stands toe-to-toe with him. Members of the supporting cast, especially James Nesbitt (Jude, Hear My Song), are no less solid.

With its rich and varied emotional texture, Go Now is a movie that you feel deep in the heart, with a pair of characters, Nick and Karen, who are so vivid that they stay with you long after the theater lights have gone on. Coupled with Jude (which was made after this film), Go Now illuminates the director's keen, unerring insight into the complexity of emotions and situations that movies too often reduce to familiar clich├ęs. Wrenching, passionate, and unforgettable, Go Now hardly makes a misstep from beginning to end.

Go Now (United Kingdom, 1996)

Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: 1998-05-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1