You’d be hard pressed to find a film title that telegraphs its ending more than “Miss You Already.” The drama about two women whose friendship is tested when one is diagnosed with breast cancer informs you at every step of the way that it’s going to leave you sitting in a puddle of your own tears.
“The lump is malignant,” intones a doctor in an early scene. Woe unto you from that moment on.
Whether it succeeds in its mission may have less to do with the merits of the film than with you – your gender, perhaps, but also with your predisposition for the kind of melodrama that is capable of making some people heave with sobs, like a manual transmission with a faulty clutch, while compelling others to sit in stony silence.
I watched it dry-eyed to the end. But I am apparently incapable of appreciating its finer points. “(D)on’t read anything critics at the Toronto Film Festival have written about ‘Miss You Already’ – particularly if those critics are men,” warned Jada Yuen on Vulture, which called the film “the ‘Beaches’ of our time.” (In a good way).
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Chromosomal bias aside, I am professionally obligated to note that the movie felt, to me, like something of an emotional mugging. Milly, played by the always interesting Toni Collette, is the stricken friend, which quickly turns her into something of a jerk: selfish, manipulative and inconsiderate.
“You’re a cancer bully,” her friend Jess complains, after Milly starts treating family and friends as if they’re the ones who gave her the tumor. As Jess, Drew Barrymore is adorbs as ever, even when ticked off.
Milly is not a mushy performance, I’m happy to report. Collette is unafraid to let Milly be as unlikable a dying person as the screenplay (by Morwenna Banks, based on her 2013 radio play “Goodbye”) requires. Banks knows from firsthand experience that terminal illness isn’t pretty. “Goodbye” was inspired by the cancer deaths of three close friends.
But the movie, directed by Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen,” “Twilight”) is itself a tad bullying, shoving where a nudge would do, and including a few more montage sequences and cancer survivability statistics than are necessary.
The men in Milly and Jess’s life are played by Dominic Cooper and Paddy Considine as the respective husbands – along with Tyson Ritter as a sexy barkeep with whom Milly disappears to the Yorkshire Moors for a brief, torrid fling. The tongue-lashing that Jess gives Milly after that is a surrogate for the one that some in the audience may feel like shouting back at the screen, based on the way Milly treats her husband.
The men in “Miss You” are not the point. They endure. They commiserate. And they get out of the way. This is not their story. We have enough movies about us, don’t we, guys? Shut up and let the ladies drive.
If “Miss You Already” works, it’s because of the cast. Collette, who shaved her head for the part, commits so deeply to the role of Milly that it’s hard to hate the contrivance of the plot. For her part, Barrymore shines like a bright beacon through the dark night of the soul that falls – if only temporarily – over Milly and Jess.
“How do you say ‘no’ to someone with cancer?” Jess wonders, when Milly starts pushing the boundaries of their friendship. For some, it’s just as hard to say no to a movie with cancer. I managed, but many of you will not.
Miss You Already
Cast: Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine and Tyson Ritter
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material, sensuality and coarse language)