Cancer is a real bastard of a disease and there’s no shortage of fictionalised takes on the subject. While some err towards either the trite or the tragic, comedy drama Miss You Already bowls straight down the middle with its tale of female friendship through the roughest times in their lives.
Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) are childhood friends who have always shared everything. When Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer, she seems to struggle more with the emotional rigours of being around her loved ones than the course of chemotherapy which she must undergo.
Despite the stress of exploring IVF treatments so that she can have a baby with her husband Jago (Paddy Considine), Jess puts everything on hold for her. This proves difficult when Milly goes into denial and reverts to her hard-partying ways, (hard for a 12A film, anyway) much to the chagrin of her own doting husband Kit, (Dominic Cooper.)
The script for Miss You Already, penned by Morwenna Banks, steers well clear of either extreme of movies about cancer, both inoffensive and unsentimental in its portrayal of its central relationships. The film doesn’t set it up so that Milly is sainted by her illness and Banks offers near-limitless sympathy for her difficult reaction and for how that affects those around her.
As far as the cast is concerned, Collette plays a blinder in the challenging lead role and she and Barrymore make believable soulmates. Considine and Cooper lend stalwart support, Frances de la Tour makes marvellous work out of a very brief cameo and Jacqueline Bisset steals several scenes as Milly’s TV actress mother, Miranda, a prima donna who seems even less equipped to deal with her daughter’s encroaching mortality.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t all ring true. The film does resort to all of the more conventional conventions first, before it gets anywhere close to anything surprising. The favoured register is jocular banter, which dampens down any chance of inter-personal conflicts escalating beyond a single scene. You’ll lose count of the number of times that it seems like Jago is angry at Jess about putting Milly before their relationship and then climbs down in time for the next cut-away.
Director Catherine Hardwicke offers a pair of reliable hands, but few of the comedy beats really land. One example of how these lighter scenes feel uncomfortable would be the requisite sing-along scene, in which REM’s Losing My Religion seems to last the entire length of an impromptu 250 mile taxi ride from London to the Yorkshire Moors. You have to feel for that driver if the song was just on repeat all that time.
Still, Hardwicke brings all of the intimate, character-led drama to the fore, showing all of the understated personality of Twilight and Thirteen and none of the overwrought hysterics of her 2011 take on Red Riding Hood. It’s a five-by-five mainstream comeback for a director who has pleasingly escaped the grinding gears of the studio system.
Miss You Already perhaps unwisely invites reminiscences of The Fault In Our Stars with the chalk-daubed typeface of its opening title card, but proceeds to stand on its own from there on out. It doesn’t break a sweat trying to wring laughter or tears out of its audience. However, it’s anything but aloof and the all-around emotional investment raises it above TV-movie-of-the-week territory.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.