'Miss You Already': TIFF Review

An underpowered drama about female friendship.

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette co-star as best friends coping when one develops a terminal illness in the latest from director Catherine Hardwicke ('Twilight').

There is a scene in Miss You Already where Toni Collette's Milly, having just learned she has breast cancer, shows her kids a little animated film to explain the disease and how chemotherapy will fight it off with cartoon ray guns. It's a shame that director Catherine Hardwicke's female-centric weepie itself is only a degree or two more sophisticated than this information film.

Although clearly deeply well-intentioned, and peppered here and there with moments of genuine honesty, Miss You is not quite one thing nor the other. It neither has the polish or marketability of a mainstream trauma drama, despite the presence of usually reliable box-office-draw Drew Barrymore as co-lead. Nor does it have the grit that would appeal to the arthouse sector that rightly embraced Hardwicke's gutsy first features, Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown. Scheduled to open this autumn in Britain and the U.S. in the clear hope of gaining some awards-season traction, it will probably struggle to find the necessary critical support to make it a contender, but could get a box-office bump if targeted specifically at the women's magazine market as well as survivors and their families.

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After a standard-issue flash-forward showing Barrymore's Jess undergoing labor alone in a hospital, a voiceover-assisted montage explains how she and her BFF Milly have known each other since they met in a London grade school. (Jess somehow has managed to retain her American accent perfectly intact ever since, not a flat vowel out of place.) Both a bit wild from puberty onwards, they've been there for each other at every crucial rite of passage, from first kisses and lost virginities to settling down with the kind of solid but still sexy cool-dad types most woman fantasize about.

Milly gets record-producer Kit (Dominic Cooper), sensitive enough to be good with their kids (Honor Kneafsey and Ryan Baker) but still butch enough to be rubbish at domestic chores. Jess is assigned occasional oil-rig worker Jago (Paddy Considine), who spends a lot of screen time being supportive and long-suffering while wearing a tool belt to signify his masculine bona fides.

All that backstory is dispensed in the first quarter-hour or so leaving a great, hefty middle act where Milly gets her diagnosis and then trudges her way through the stations of the cancer cross, from agonizing chemo sessions, the loss of her body hair (prompting one of the most resonant scenes in the film where she tries on wigs with Frances de la Tour's wigmaker), and eventually a double mastectomy. Thanks to some smoothly integrated visual effects, the audience is shown what a woman's body looks like after such an operation, which isn't exactly a movie first but is still a rare-enough sight in cinema to earn bonus points for bravery.

Indeed, it's all-too easy to hear the research put into Morwenna Banks' script as it takes pains to explore how the illness sometimes impacts women's self-esteem and shapes relationships in unexpected ways with friends, colleagues, parents and, most crucially, partners. After the mastectomy, Kit and Milly's sex life flatlines for reasons that are never quite spelt out. It's at this point that the movie finally starts to be a story about believably flawed people instead of case studies with costumes and arch one-liners.

Frustrated and in need of reassurance, Milly — who truth be told is a bit of a rampant narcissist — seeks some sexual healing on the side with Tyson Ritter's stud-muffin American bartender. Unfortunately, Jess finds out and the two end up having a screaming cat-fight on the Yorkshire Moors. Strangely enough, it's here in the scene where their characters are at loggerheads, that the actors finally generate some onscreen chemistry with each other. The sad truth is that, however engaging they are as performers elsewhere, neither Collette nor Barrymore are at their best here. No amount of hearty, gum-baring laughter from (Collette especially), beatific smiles (Barrymore's specialty) and hugs can disguise the fact that they often look ill at ease together, more like two people who only just met on set rather than the best of friends.

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We carp because we care. Films about female friendship, that pass the Bechtdel test with such flying colors, are all too rare as it is. So it makes it even more of a pity to see this one, with its potential to be a Beaches for the selfie generation, fail to stick the landing.

At least there are some incidental pleasures to be had along the way. As lifestyle porn that puts on great double-page spreads showcasing stylishly appointed flats and adorable bohemian house boats, Miss You Already is pretty impeccable. If Banks' script sometimes neglects to fill in the blanks about who these people are, where they come from, and what they like to do in their leisure time, then the gaps are more than adequately filled by Claire Finlay Thomson's evocative costume design and production designer Amanda McArthur comfortably cluttered sets. With that in mind, it seems somehow apt that one of the most poignant interactions comes at the end when Milly gives Jess a pair of Christian Louboutin platforms because she's sick of seeing her in Birkenstocks. The use of photogenic London locations however is a little too idealized, and feels filtered through a foreigner's eyes, like all those Woody Allen movies shot in Europe.

 

Production companies: A Lionsgate, New Sparta Films presentation in association with the Salt Company of an S Films production

Cast: Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter, Jacqueline Bisset, Honor Kneafsey, Ryan Baker, Frances de la Tour, Tyson Ritter

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Screenwriter: Morwenna Banks

Producer: Christopher Simon

Executive producers: Jerome Booth, Nicki Hattingh, Sheryl Crown, Anne Sheehan, Samantha Horley, James Norrie, Barnaby Southcombe, Lisa Lambert, Celine Rattray, Trudie Styler, Catherine Hardwicke, Morwenna Banks, Paul Andrew Williams

Director of photography: Elliot Davis

Editor: Phillip J. Bartell

Production designer: Amanda McArthur

Costume designer: Claire Finlay Thomson

Composer: Harry Gregson-Williams

Casting: Lucy Bevan, Ruth Key

Sales: The Salt Company
 

No rating, 112 minutes

 

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