Making a cancer movie is a tricky proposition. If you tap into something that feels real and honest, you have a chance to deliver something extraordinarily powerful (Wit, Ikiru, Terms of Endearment). If you lean too hard on phony manipulation, you run the risk of delivering a movie that leaps beyond “bad” into the realm of “infuriatingly bad” (My Sister's Keeper, The Bucket List). Catherine Hardwicke's Miss You Already lands squarely in the middle, offering just enough credibility to tug at your heartstrings while occasionally dipping a little too far into needless melodrama.
Jess (Drew Barrymore, Fever Pitch) and Milly (Toni Collette, United States of Tara) have been inseparable friends since childhood. Both women have grown and changed a lot over the decades, but they've always been there for each other. Now, Milly is married to a former rocker (Dominic Cooper, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and has two adorable young kids, while Jess is married to a good-natured oil rig worker (Paddy Considine, The World's End) and has been trying to have kids for a long time. Eventually, both women receive life-altering news: Jess has finally gotten pregnant... and Milly has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
There's a bit too much tidiness in the way the film contrasts the joy and sorrow in each woman's life (one carrying a child she desperately wants, the other carrying a tumor she desperately wants to get rid of), and there are a lot of little moments that feel like cutesy writerly conceits. An example:
Considine (cooking breakfast): “Your eggs are ready.”
Barrymore (looking at her fertility monitor): “Not according to this.”
Exchanges like that (and there are a lot of them) never let you forget that you're watching a movie, but Barrymore and Collette manage to overcome the mediocrity of the material and deliver performances that feels authentically messy. Both women generate decent chemistry with the affable actors playing their husbands, but the lifelong friendship at the center of the film is easily the the tale's richest and most complicated relationship. There's something touchingly authentic about the the way they roll their eyes at each other's tics and the way they condense entire conversations into glances.
Naturally, the cancer takes a physical toll on Milly, but it also loosens her inhibitions just enough to inspire her to make some really foolish mistakes. This, in turn, takes a toll on her relationship with Jess, who repeatedly forgives the unforgivable because she knows what Milly is going through. Still, it's only a matter of time before something has to give. “You're a cancer bully,” Jess hisses after yet another instance of Milly using her illness as an easy way to win an argument. These moments of complexity go a long way towards making the more conventionally syrupy scenes work, as the moments of pure sweetness feel like a welcome break from the tension.
The film's most significant misstep comes midway through, as Milly and Jess decide to take a trip to Yorkshire to see where the Bronte sisters grew up (they've both been fans for many years). The sequence certainly offers some gorgeous imagery, but Hardwicke's attempt to bring some melodramatic Wuthering Heights-style atmosphere (complete with elegant, sweeping shots of romantic landscapes) doesn't mesh terribly well with the rest of the film's tone. Additionally, this detour is anchored around one of the film's most unconvincing supporting characters: a dopey-but-handsome bartender ripped straight out of a Calvin Klein catalogue.
Miss You Already is an inconsistent movie, but it must be said that it more or less does what it sets out to do: make you smile-cry a few times. Cancer is a tough thing to deal with, but it's something that has affected many of us in very direct ways. Despite my issues with portions of the movie, I was glad to see that it ultimately devotes itself to offering honest comfort rather than artificial hope. It's certainly not the richest take I've ever seen on the subject, but it's a good-hearted movie featuring a pair of fine performances.
Miss You Already
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 112 minutes
Release Year: 2015