Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Stars: Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Paddy Considine, Dominic Cooper, Jacqueline Bissett, Frances de la Tour.
Imagine that archetypal chick flick Beaches with a darker edge, and that’s what you get with this tear jerker about relationships, female friendship and cancer. There have been many films exploring a relationship touched by the spectre of cancer, from the classic 70s weepie Love Story through to more recent fare and Young Adult tales like The Fault In Our Stars and the quirky Me And Earl And The Dying Girl and Susanne Biers’ unsentimental Love Is All Around.
Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been friends ever since they were in primary school together. Milly took the American arrival under her wing, and despite being polar opposites personality wise they have been inseparable ever since, sharing adventures together. Milly was a bit of a wild child and rebellious, and the more sensible Jess was the rock in their relationship.
Milly is a powerful PR consultant who is married to Kit (Dominic Cooper), a former roadie who now works in the management side of the business, and they live in a luxurious townhouse. The hippy like Jess works on environmental causes and lives with Jago (Paddy Considine) on a house boat in the canals of London. Milly and Kit have two children, while Jess finds it hard to conceive, which has added an element of tension to their relationship. Jess and Jago are undergoing IVF treatment.
But then Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer, and undergoes a mastectomy and this throws her life into confusion. But Milly’s illness also affects her relationship with Jess, who puts her life on hold to help her through the ordeal. Initially Milly comes through, but then the cancer returns and this time the diagnosis is terminal.
Miss You Already has been written by actress turned screenwriter Morwenna Banks, who lost three close friends to breast cancer, and in 2013 she turned her experience and pain into a BBC radio play, which provided the basis for this film. Her approach is unsentimental at times, but also honest and emotionally devastating in the depiction of Milly’s suffering .
The director is Catherine Hardwicke, who is known for her gritty and edgy approach to material. Hardwicke gave us what was arguably the best instalment of tween vampire franchise Twilight and she also gave us Thirteen, the edgy coming of age drama full of adolescent angst. But Hardwicke also manages to suffuse the grim material with some touches of black humour. She emphasises the intimacy of the drama .And London looks great, thanks to the superb cinematography of her regular dop Elliot Davis (who shot her films Twilight, Lords Of Dogtown as well as The Iron Lady, etc)
Hardwicke’s unapologetically tough approach is effective here, especially in those scenes set in the oncology ward and which chart Milly’s chemotherapy treatment, which are quite confronting and harrowing and tough to watch. Milly also shaves her hair off before she loses it due to her chemotherapy treatment. The film may be a bit too raw and uncomfortable and too close too home for anyone who has watched a loved one die from cancer.
Milly is a flawed and self-absorbed character, brash and fun loving, and not always likeable or sympathetic, (in fact at one point Jess refers to her as a “cancer bitch”). But Collette makes the most of the more emotional and demanding role here given the arc of her character, and she fleshes her out with a nicely rounded performance. Barrymore’s Jess is a more likeable character with a sense of loyalty and strength and who is prepared to put her life on hold to help Milly through her ordeal. Collette and Barrymore develop a wonderful chemistry and strong rapport here that elevates the material.
Considine normally plays the tough guy on screen, but his role as Jago allows him to show a more sensitive side and he brings a droll quality to his performance. But he also manages to convey that sense of frustration he feels when Jess puts aside her own life and concerns to tend to Milly. Jacqueline Bissett (Bullitt, etc) is very good as Milly’s mother Miranda, a noted television actress who has faded from the limelight, and who finds it tough to deal with her daughter’s illness at first. She has a couple of memorable scenes.
Miss You Already is a first class weepie and a funny, poignant take on female friendships that will resonate strongly with audiences. However I found that it took me a while to actually get into the rhythm and slightly uneven tone of the film, but then it packs quite a wallop. Tissues are required for the final act. However the title is a bit bland and I’m surprised that the filmmakers could not come up with something stronger and more evocative.