Female friendship fable “Miss You Already” presents itself as a sort of “Beaches” for the 21st century, announcing its tearjerking intentions right there in the title. If this is your kind of thing, you may have already bought your tickets to enjoy a slice of friendship fantasy and a good cry. The presence of beloved actresses Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette also sweetens the pot. But in endeavoring to deliver buckets of tearful catharsis, the efforts of “Miss You Already” are so conspicuous and unabashed that it only achieves a strange sense of emotional detachment.
With impeccable directing from Catherine Hardwicke, we have to implicate the script, by Morwenna Banks, which wrings itself into a knot of tears and angst. The film follows lifelong best friends Jess (Barrymore) and Milly (Collette), during Milly’s battle with cancer. As a child, American Jess was transplanted to London, where she befriended the sassy Milly, and where they still reside. There are a few Nancy Meyers-esque flourishes of preposterous fantasy that color Jess and Milly’s lives. Jess lives aboard a houseboat with her partner Jago (Paddy Considine), while working at some undefined non-profit that involves gardening. Their greatest struggle is that they don’t qualify for free in-vitro fertilization treatments (oh, National Health Service of England!).
Where Jess is soft and grounded, Milly is wild and carefree, married to the young, hot rocker type Kit (Dominic Cooper). What was an unplanned pregnancy with a roadie turns into domestic bliss in a gorgeous home, with all the financial success one could want. It’s a charmed life, until Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer. Her family and Jess devote themselves to her recovery, and she initially tries to keep up a brave face.
However, with each obstacle, Milly further devolves into a grumpy, selfish jerk, lashing out at her family and friends, acting out wildly, and turning inward. Her relationships teeter on the brink of collapse, she torpedoes her own birthday party, she drinks to forget, but also to remember her party girl past, and she flirts with hunky bartenders (Tyson Ritter). The film doesn’t judge her for this internal battle and bad behavior, but she’s a monster. It culminates in a disastrous jaunt to the Moors with Jess, an ill-advised dalliance, and even more ill-advised belting of “Losing My Religion.”
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Given the soapy material, Hardwick brings a wealth of dimension in her directing choices. Her camera takes high canted angles and travels into close-ups during intense emotional moments, adding an element of psychological thriller. The medical drama is rendered as pure body horror. This accomplished style shows us the potential for “Miss You Already” to transcend its weepie melodrama genre, but it fumbles the landing.
In the march to the end, “Miss You Already” grinds its gears through the late stages of cancer, following a predictable and cliche path. Each scene is a yank on the heartstrings, a poke in the tear ducts, with its intents and machinations plainly obvious. The histrionics obfuscate what could be lovely, enlightening lessons about illness, death and partnership. What does it mean to be a model patient or give into the fear? What can the choices in life mean for death? These moments do shine through, at times, but “Miss You Already” relies more on tearjerking, than truth-telling in weaving its story.
Miss You Already
Rated: PG-13 for thematic content, sexual material, some language. Starring: Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Paddy Considine, Dominic Cooper. Director: Catherine Hardwicke. Running time: 102 minutes. Theater: Edwards 21.