Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, Miss You Already opens on Jess (Drew Barrymore) going through what could only be described as a terrible birth experience. Through the pain, she screams that she needs her best friend Milly (Toni Colette), who has been by her side since they were children. Only Milly isn’t there. The film then shifts to an overly drawn out montage to get the audience up to speed on just how great of friends Jess and Milly are – as well as introduce husbands Kit (Dominic Cooper) and Jago (Paddy Considine). Eventually we learn why Milly is not by Jess’ side this time; her perfect life has been torn apart by a breast cancer diagnosis.
The lively montage that spells out the relationship between the two leads essentially sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Director Catherine Hardwicke repeatedly employs the technique rather than tackle the film’s subject matter head on. Comedies about the nature of cancer and friendship have worked well before – such as 2011’s 50/50. However that film was considerably more grounded in reality than Miss You Already, which glosses over much of the drama. Much of this is due to a script that is far too clever for its own good; every character is written as so droll and witty that eventually it becomes tiresome.
That’s not to say the film’s dramatic moments don’t work. It’s third act is absolutely heart wrenching, in fact. Problems stem from the fact that the movie simply does not sustain that pathos throughout its entire running time. It’s obvious from the get-go that the film intends to look at its subject matter through a more light-hearted lens, but too little attention is placed on the darkness associated with cancer and treatment to make the comedy feel earned. In dark comedies, the humor is supposed to come from the tragedy of the situation, but in the case of this film, the humor comes simply because these characters are constantly trying to be charming. Characters reconcile their drama so quickly that at times we, as an audience, find ourselves yearning for something to go wrong so the tension can once again be ramped up.
The efficacy of the drama is aided by Miss You Already’s greatest strength: the performances Catherine Hardwicke was able to get out of the film’s cast. Toni Collette deserves particular recognition as she takes Milly through an incredible transformation – both physically and emotionally. Indeed, everyone involved gives a great performance – it would not be a stretch to say that the actress who plays Milly’s daughter in the film has a great career ahead of her. The issue is simply the fact that for much of the film’s run time, the best moments for the actors are the characters’ private moments, and not when they interact with one another. In the end, this results in the men – who get less screen time – having decidedly weaker arcs than the female leads.
I’m going to bring the topic back to 50/50 again, because the comparisons between the two films will be impossible to ignore. Miss You Already will most certainly do for female friendships what 50/50 did for bromances, but it also suffers from a similar issue. However, as a male critic, I am compelled to remember what Meryl Streep said last month: female-focused movies do no get made because critics are overwhelmingly male. That said, I still feel compelled to say that – regardless of gender dynamics – 50/50 simply told a more compelling and grounded story that made the audience feel the weight of the situation while still finding the humor in it.
From a visual standpoint it’s worth noting that Miss You Already is a gorgeous film. Despite its fairly uncomplicated nature, Hardwicke elevates the material through some great cinematography and eye-catching set design. However, much like the script, the visuals can often be a bit too stylized for a movie that endeavors to tell a grounded, human story. For example, despite constantly worrying about money, Jago and Jess somehow live on a lovely and immaculately decorated boat moored on the Thames. Beautiful? Yes. Distracting? Equally so.
In the end, Miss You Already is still an enjoyable film that knows its audience. While there’s nothing wrong with taking a light-hearted approach towards a somber topic, in doing so the film sometimes glosses over some of its more compelling aspects in the name of being cute. That being said, it’s a beautiful looking movie with beautiful performances, and – if you can make it to the end – worth the emotional journey.