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Film Reviews Miss You Already: Toni Collette delights in wise yet melodramatic film

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette star in Miss You Already, a film that follows two best friends, Milly and Jess, as they navigate life's highs and lows.

Courtesy of TIFF

2.5 out of 4 stars

Title
Miss You Already
Written by
Morwenna Banks
Directed by
Catherine Hardwicke
Starring
Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore
Classification
PG
Country
United Kingdom
Language
English
Year
2015

Miss You Already is a film about friendship. It observes, rather astutely, that there is a power imbalance in a certain kind of friendship where one half plays the ringleader and scene-stealer while the other is the sidekick and enabler. Since its protagonists are two women in their 30s, it will probably be labelled as a film about female friendship, but surely its central observation is just as true of male friendships. It would be a mistake to pigeonhole Miss You Already as a women's film.

On the other hand, that friendship is tested when the ringleader figure gets breast cancer and, try as they might to keep it real with bowls of vomit and mastectomy scars, screenwriter Morwenna Banks and director Catherine Hardwicke cannot avoid a descent into sentimentality. So, you wouldn't be committing much of an injustice if you pigeonholed Miss You Already as a cancer movie.

In a big, engrossing performance that is the film's chief delight, the reliable Australian actress Toni Collette plays Milly, a long-time London party girl and entertainment publicist who has somehow managed to settle down with a rock 'n' roll entrepreneur named Kit (Dominic Cooper) and produce two lovely children. Drew Barrymore plays Jess, Milly's best friend since childhood, her companion in every escapade, yet also a more sensible sort – who has inexplicably preserved her American accent even though she is supposed to have lived in London since she was 10. (A British movie with an American director and star, Miss You Already does suffer some cultural confusion.)

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Jess marries the sympathetic mechanic Jago (Paddy Considine) and lives on a really hip houseboat, but the loving pair are plagued by infertility. And then, just when their in-vitro treatments finally do the trick, friend Milly is diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer.

The interesting stuff that follows is all about Milly's ability to hog the limelight in sickness and in health as she tackles cancer with courage, humour and a great deal of self-dramatization. She is an exceedingly well-observed life-of-the party character and Collette does a lovely job of capturing both her charming and her infuriating sides, her contagious energy and her bold manipulation. Barrymore, on the other hand, is squeezed out of the picture as much as her character is, reduced to producing a recognizable facsimile of somebody nice. Even the film's creators remain unconvinced by her authority: In theory, Jess is the film's narrator, voicing both an introduction and postscript. And yet Hardwicke includes many scenes that are told exclusively from Milly's perspective, even up to the point when her life flashes before her dying eyes.

And of course, she does die. Miss You Already is relatively faithful to the trajectory, the pain and the mess of a really nasty case of rapidly metastasizing breast cancer even if Milly does seem to wear her dramatic wig and various stocking caps longer than would seem normal – just as Jess pushes out her new baby in unbelievably short order.

There's strong supporting work from Cooper and Considine as the two decent blokes the girls are married to and especially from Jacqueline Bisset as Milly's mum, a successful television actress whose daughter is now going to punish her for the absences and inattention that marked her childhood. Bisset's characterization of her self-absorption, her confusion and her hurt are touchingly faithful to life.

But for all this truth about human relationships nicely observed by the cast, nobody here can raise the final improbable scenes of childbirth and cancer death above the level of a two-hanky weepy. Miss You Already is a wise movie much spoiled by its melodramatic conclusion.

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