By Elias Savada.
I suspect the issues I have with the new Drew Barrymore-Toni Collette BFF “dramedy” Miss You Already (including a 112-minute, too-long running time) is how overwrought and familiar it seems. Despite the earnest approach from its two stars (who also serve, with Christopher Smith, as producers), there isn’t anything fresh in the story. Movies about terminal illnesses and the fraught relationships they embitter have been around for a long time, but sometimes the writing (here, the script is by Morwenna Banks, who also serves as one of the film’s 13 executive producers) turns too familiar, in a nicely filmed (by Elliot Davis, in London and on the Emily Bronté moors of Yorkshire) cable disease-movie-of-the-week way.
While her days as a big screen romantic sweetheart may be waning, particularly after she reteamed with Adam Sandler in last year’s disastrous rom-com Blended, Barrymore has scored enough dough and arm-bending clout to become a Hollywood producer through her Flower Films. I adored Donnie Darko (in which she appeared and executive produced) and loved the roller derby comedy-drama Whip It, the first feature she also directed. Yet Miss You Already lands at theaters courtesy of Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions with little traction, best as I can see, although I suspect someone’s hankering for a year-end nomination this awards season.
This manipulative weepie ultimately shares a tale about a desperate-to-conceive American (Barrymore’s Jess) and an anguished Brit with the Big C (Collette’s Milly) and tv actress mother (a bleach blonde Jacqueline Bisset!) issues, with lots of angst tossed in its mixed salad, much like the leafy bowl into which the diminished Milly is seen vomiting. Director Catherine Hardwicke spun her own life into Thirteen, a controversial, award-worthy debut feature from 2003. I wonder if there was pre-production discussion about the earlier film when considering the new film’s artwork (with the best friends since childhood resemblance), as both contain the central female characters in similar close-up poses. While Hardwicke shepherded the first Twilight film and launched that series to blockbluster status, her follow up film, Red Riding Hood (2011), was just dreadful.
Anyway, the story begins with 10-year-old Jess’s family relocating to London where she and the same aged Milly become thick-as-thieves friends. Cue the photo montage (with annoying camera shutter snapping and flash bulb popping noise prompts) to age 13 and then adulthood, sharing an adventurous, vibrant, party life (that a PG-13 rating can afford) before settling down to toss constant references from Wuthering Heights at friends and family. PR executive Milly weds first, to Kit (Dominic Cooper), a successful goth rocker who settles down to a straight life as a chaotic father to some rambunctious children. Charity worker Jess finds love in Jago, an oil rig laborer who dotes on his wife and her fertility cycle so they can begin a family, before ultimately realizing their reproductive hopes lay at an IVF clinic. He’s played by English actor Paddy Considine, the most relaxed actor in the film. Nothing unusual there. I ‘ve been a fan since catching him in his debut feature A Room for Romeo Brass (2000) from director Shane Meadows.
But the cracks in the film emerge at the same time Milly is diagnosed. Denial sets in. Misplaced anger pushes the limits of the BFF’s and their families’ relationships. A surprise birthday party (portrayed for laughs in the film’s U.S. trailer) turns downright dismal. When the mental healing eventually begins, you’ll find it accompanied by numerous indie pop tunes. Ain’t that just too familiar.
Some of the drama is light (a wig fitting episode with Frances de la Tour), some painful (syringe needles piercing skin), and then it’s just too contrived as the film climaxes in a hospital room with Jess about to give birth. Breast cancer is no laughing matter, although when your life falls apart because you or someone you know has it, laughter can help deal with it. If you want a good tear cleanser about cancer and the gentle tumult it causes in BFF relationships, check out this year’s overlooked Me and Earl and the Dying Girl or 2011’s 50/50.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the new horror film German Angst and co-author, with David J. Skal, of Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning.