Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends since childhood, sharing everything. But their relationships and lives are thrown into turmoil when Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer in "Miss You Already."
This unabashed chick flick cancer weepie isn't entirely free of genre cliche, but screenwriter Morwenna Banks has created a protagonist whose vanity and selfishness is exacerbated by her cancer diagnosis, a bold move which gives the film an emotional reality. Then you get Toni Collette, an actress who keeps her character sympathetic even during bouts of bad behavior. Director Catherine Hardwicke ("Thirteen," "Twilight") doesn't give enough room to her male leads to create fully fleshed characters and the initial pacing of the film suffers from ADD, but she's led a strong cast to a moving conclusion about marriage, friendship and death.
The film's beginning stuffs twenty some-odd years of friendship into a series of cutesy montages which show how Milly befriended the new American girl at school and sucked her up into an uncommon life of celebrity. Milly's mother Miranda (Jacqueline Bisset) is an actress and her own proclivity for the rock 'n roll lifestyle ends in marriage to dishy punker Kit (Dominic Cooper, "The Devil's Double") who unexpectedly embraces her pregnancy and settles down. Their life retains glamour through his sound studio business and her work as a PR maven. Jess takes a more humanistic, less well-paying path, ending up with the affable blue collar Jago (Paddy Considine, "Pride"). The two couples are the best of friends.
When Milly receives her diagnosis, she initially keeps it to herself, unable to accept how this new reality will impact her image, but Jess and Kit rally round for chemotherapy treatments while Miranda works to bolster her daughter's confidence via a session with an industry wig maker (Frances de la Tour, "Mr. Holmes"). The cracks that begin to show with Milly's exasperation at Kit's inability to pick up her slack deepen after she undergoes a double mastectomy, one hesitation from Kit shutting down their sex life. Jess is also feeling the strain, Jago upset by her prioritizing supporting her friend over their attempts to get pregnant. When Kit throws Milly a surprise party, her public tantrum and subsequent kidnapping of Jess for an impromptu trip to the Moors (the two share a lifelong Wuthering Heights obsession) dismays her best friend after Jess discovers Milly's hidden agenda, leading to a rift. Jess, who delays telling Milly about her pregnancy until things get out of hand, chooses to ride it out without Milly's drama. When the two bump into each other next, Jess finds her friend much changed.
Hardwicke's cast is so grounded, they imbue the type of scenes generally only found in movies with behavioral history. When a drunken Milly and accommodating Jess burst out into an exuberant rendition of 'Losing My Religion' in the back of a cab, then get cabbie Ahmed (Mem Ferda, "The Devil's Double") to stop and join them on the side of the road, it feels genuine, like something crazy from one's own past. Barrymore is a likable actress who slips right into Jess's decent, homey skin. Collette's got the flashier role and she runs with it creating a woman whose self worth resides in her desirability, who lives for fun yet creates a loving household. Their friendship is a natural of opposing dynamics, just as Collette and Bisset's mother/daughter relationship is fraught with the tensions of similarity. Cooper may be saddled with the 'too good to be true' supportive mate, but he makes the most of it, Hardwicke's use of extreme close ups for intimate moments letting her actors' faces tell the tale. Considine has the least developed role, his matey chemistry with Cooper stronger than his romantic one with Barrymore. Also good is Tyson Ritter ("The House Bunny") as a sexy bartender attracted to Milly.
Hardwicke dips her toe into Nancy Meyers territory with Milly's fairy tale fabulous London home and Jess's bohemian houseboat, but at least her choices make economic sense for her characters. Claire Finlay's costuming reflects their lifestyles - Milly's shoes will be the envy of many.
"Miss You Already" may be blatant in going for the tears, but it doesn't feel manipulative, its cancer patient never sainted, its wistful conclusion well earned.
Robin did not see this film.
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