"Miss You Already" is destined to be compared to the mother of all weepies about female friendship and fatal disease, 1988's glorious "Beaches," though to be written off as such is to not give proper credit to its own, separate bittersweet values and achievements. Director Catherine Hardwicke, marrying the tougher sensibilities of 2003's "Thirteen
" and 2005's "Lords of Dogtown
" with the more commercial, formerly less successful likes of 2008's "Twilight
" and 2011's "Red Riding Hood
," takes a tough existential subject and treats it with the honesty and candidness it deserves. Melodrama slips in at times, but it is rarely saccharine, with screenwriter Morwenna Banks and actors Drew Barrymore (2014's "Blended
") and Toni Collette (2014's "A Long Way Down
") selling every turn of the plot even when the end game is exceedingly clear.
Ever since the American-born Jess (Drew Barrymore) moved with her family to London in 1986, she and Milly (Toni Collette) have been best friends. In the nearly thirty years since, they have forged their own paths into adulthood but remained virtually inseparable. Now in their thirties, PR executive Milly has become a wife to domesticized rocker Kit (Dominic Cooper) and a mother to young children Scarlett (Honor Kneafsey) and Ben (Ryan Baker), while Jess, an environmental planner, has struggled to conceive a child with oil-rig worker husband Jago (Paddy Considine). When Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer, she is suddenly faced for the first time with her own fragile mortality. Jess and Kit are there for her as she embarks on chemotherapy and attempts to put on a brave face for her kids, but circumstances only become more difficult when the radiation fails to work. For Milly, who has just learned she is pregnant, she is torn between celebrating her own happy occasion and the unimaginable prospect of losing her closest confidante.
"Miss You Already" must sound like a major downer from its synopsisand it is sad, certainlybut director Catherine Hardwicke brings resonating hope and moments of levity to a downbeat topic. In their own ways, Jess and Milly are both fighting for life, the former in regard to having a children and the latter as she wages a battle against disease. Because so much more is at state, Milly's struggle becomes the most involving as she is confronted not only with death, but also with what she sees as an affront against her very womanhood. Losing her hair is one thingthere is an effective scene where she is empowered to shave off what is left of itbut the prospect of a double mastectomy is more difficult to imagine until she has no choice but to agree to the procedure. Hardwicke does not shy away from the unpleasant realities of cancer and the conflicts that arise not only physically, but also psychologically and socially. With her and Kit drifting further apart, she turns down a self-destructive path before attracting the attention of kind bartender Ace (Tyson Ritter). Does he feel sorry for her? Possibly, but he makes her feel desirable in a way she hasn't for quite some time.
Toni Collette is a powerhouse as Milly, a fearless, energetic force at the onset until she is challenged in a way she has never been before. Collette chooses not to play Milly as someone to feel sorry for, finding dignity but also a flawed fallibility in her ordeal. She and Drew Barrymore, terrific in the less showy role of Jess, give an organic, sweeping, poignant grace note to their tight bond. An impromptu bucket-list trip to the British moors features an aching, anthemic use of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" and a somewhat more forced confrontation that feels orchestrated solely to take advantage of the devastating scenery, but nonetheless stands as a memorable turning point in the narrative. "Miss You Already" very easily could have fallen into maudlin Lifetime clichés, yet dodges such trappings to present a forthright, emotionally authentic depiction of friendship through the years, in all its complex forms.