MISS YOU ALREADY
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Cast: Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter, Honor Kneafsey, Ryan Lennon Baker
MPAA Rating: (for thematic content, sexual material and some language)
Running Time: 1:52
Release Date: 11/6/15 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 5, 2015
Here's a film that doesn't compromise in its depiction of terminal illness. Too many movies do, and it's never made much sense why they do. The thought, it seems, is that we can accept a portrayal of dying and/or death as long it is appropriately "sad" or "tragic"—that there's a certain degree of romanticism to and distance from it. These movies allow us to feel the general emotions that come with the event of death, but we're rarely allowed to see the process of dying. The former is cathartic. The latter is not. Miss You Already admirably gives us the latter.
This is not one of those movies in which the dying character occasionally coughs to hint that the character's death is inevitable. This is not a movie in which a person on his or her deathbed looks only slightly less healthy, as if the makeup department simply did its job by applying less foundation or blush on that day of shooting, or even has an almost angelic glow, as if to suggest that the moment that's approaching will be a transcendent one for all involved. No, here the process of dying is long, arduous, and painful on multiple levels and for everyone involved.
The film is not as depressing as it sounds, though, and that's because the screenplay by Morwenna Banks frames the story of the death of Milly (Toni Collette) as one of friendship and care. Milly's best friend Jess (Drew Barrymore) is there through most of the experience, and even though Jess has no idea how to console or comfort her friend, she does the most that she can. She helps her friend to laugh, to remember the good times, to go on a random adventure, and to be there for her family. She remains a friend. It might not seem like much, but it's the best she can do.
The trouble is that Banks doesn't fully trust the relationship or its potential for drama without throwing a few arbitrary conflicts into the mix. It's a shame, really, but one that doesn't completely diminish the emotional impact of what the film accomplishes when it keeps its focus on the way the disease devastates Milly's body and mind, while also affecting her friends and family. Those scenes—and there are many of them—have a level of honesty that transcends the film's rough middle section.
The story is divided into three acts: illness, remission, and recurrence. Jess and Milly have been friends since childhood, when Jess moved to England after her father got a new job there. They have been there for each other throughout all of life's most important events. Milly is married to Kit (Dominic Cooper), a former roadie who has settled down into family life, and they have two children (Honor Kneafsey and Ryan Lennon Baker). Jess is married to Jago (Paddy Considine), and they are trying to have a baby.
Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer. She hides the news from Jess and her family until just before her chemotherapy treatments begin. Jess accompanies her to the sessions.
The film is unafraid of doing two things: showing the effect of Milly's illness and allowing humor to come through in even these difficult times. This is a surprisingly funny film, but the humor is by no means forced upon the situation.
It seeps into the material naturally as the way these two friends have always dealt with anything in life. It simply doesn't stop because of illness. Barrymore's performance stumbles at points, especially in regards to the subplot involving her trying to get pregnant, but she shows such ease in these scenes with Milly, which could easily become maudlin. Instead, she conveys a sense of intentionally trying to maintain a level of normalcy—joking around and passing good-natured insults—in the face of a long needle attached to a tube pumping toxic chemicals into her friend's body.
The humor doesn't undermine what's happening to Milly, either. It's shown through significant—her nausea from the drugs—and small details—the wide bruise on her hand from repeated treatments. There are feelings of despair, such as when she learns she may have to undergo a mastectomy, and humiliation, such as when she begins to lose her hair. There's nothing remotely romantic or generically tragic about the progression of her illness and the treatment for it. It's specifically debilitating, and Collette's performance is one of intense physical (Her appearance in the later scenes of the film is particularly jarring for its authenticity) and psychological transformations.
The second act, when the disease seems to be under control, is the film's least effective. It follows Milly's affair with a younger bartender (Tyson Ritter) and Jess' discovery that she's pregnant.
The primary problem is that these characters, who are so open and honest about their lives and their feelings, suddenly grow silent and uncommunicative (Director Catherine Hardwicke tries to communicate what isn't said through repeated close-ups, but it's not quite the same). The reasoning is sound (Milly feels unloved by Kit, who doesn't know how to react to his wife's illness, and Jess doesn't want to sound like she's gloating), but it feels as if the screenplay is sacrificing the heart of these relationships for conflicts that must be overcome.
As the third act shows, Miss You Already doesn't need those complications. The film's straightforward, blunt depiction of illness, along with its sympathetic view of family and friends trying to do what they can, is more than enough.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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