It’s easy to dismiss the Toni Collette-Drew Barrymore drama Miss You Already as an update of Garry Marshall’s 1988 comedy-melodrama Beaches, targeted to Gen Xers facing the realities of adulthood. (Don’t worry, Millennials, you’re next.) Thankfully, it’s directed by Catherine Hardwicke, whose diverse filmography includes Twilight, Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown. She’s able to ground the film and mostly save it from the plot’s inherent maudlin tendencies.
Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends since Jess’ family moved to London, with Milly taking the new American girl under her wing. In a quick flash-forward montage, the audience follows Jess and Milly as they navigate childhood, the teen years and young adulthood. Milly has the never-say-never adventurous spirit, while pragmatic Jess is a little more cautious. Hardwicke and screenwriter Morwenna Banks swiftly define the characters through the rush of clips. Milly loses her virginity to roadie/musician Kit (Dominic Cooper) in the middle of a concert, but out of all the rock ’n‘ roll bad boys, she picks one who cleans up well. By the time the film starts in earnest, Kit’s become a music exec and she’s a PR professional with two kids and a happy home.
Meanwhile, in voiceover, Jess laments that it’s only recently she doesn’t have many pictures of herself and Milly. Spoiler alert—if you didn’t pick up on the film’s ominous title—Milly gets a diagnosis that changes her life: Her doctor’s found a cancerous lump in her breast. The majority of the film focuses on Milly’s treatment, along with its effect on her loved ones. While Kit tries to hold the family together, it’s Jess and Milly’s mother Miranda (Jacqueline Bisset) to whom the audience can relate the most. This seems like the first time that Miranda, a TV star, has had to face such a stark reality, and she’s unsure how to proceed. Bisset is alternately hilarious and pitiful as the mom who means well but says and does all the wrong things. Milly doesn’t help her situation much either, taking her frustration and anger out on those closest to her. There are honest moments that don’t sugarcoat the battle against the disease, a welcome change from other movies that cut away from the puking, the hair loss and the mastectomy scars.
In going against type, Collette plays Milly as a not-so-nice cancer patient—she’s selfish, moody and takes her friends and family for granted. In other words, she’s real and unafraid to mourn her lot in life. Milly beckons for her best friend at all times, and Jess will do anything for Milly. If roles were reversed, we’re not so sure Milly would reciprocate, but it’s in Jess’ environmentalist, Birkenstock-wearing nature to care. Jess puts her life on hold and doesn’t tell Milly, at first, that she and her boyfriend Jago (Paddy Considine) are finally expecting their first child with the help of IVF treatments. Both Jago and Kit understand there’s a bond between these BFFs that doesn’t include them, and the men are often relegated to the background. They’re underdeveloped characters—a little too caring and patient—and almost unnecessary. Miss You Already squarely focuses on the relationship among the women in the film (Miranda included).
Things come to a head when Milly talks Jess into an impromptu road trip to the Moors, under the guise of reliving their favorite book, Wuthering Heights. After a cheesy dance scene in the fields to REM’s “Losing My Religion” (at least it’s not “Wind Beneath My Wings”), Jess learns the trip is a booty call. Milly’s seeing a bartender boy toy at their bed and breakfast, and justifies it because her and Kit’s sex life has altogether disappeared. A disgusted Jess reaches her breaking point when Milly doesn’t take any blame for keeping Kit at arm’s length throughout the ordeal.
Unsurprisingly, the ending gets pretty sappy. Banks and Hardwicke throw every cheap tear-inducing trick at the audience, which does a disservice to earlier, emotionally raw moments. Elliot Davis’ camera work and Hardwicke’s pacing accelerates during the last 20 or so minutes: Paddy, a driller on a rig, is naturally out to sea when Jess goes into labor by herself, and a weakened Milly is determined to help. The race against the clock toward the end of Miss You Already feels altogether different from prior scenes in which the camera lingers on a chemotherapy IV line or bandages that wrap Milly’s chest. Yet despite this excess of sentimentality, the scenes are salvaged by the committed performances of Collette and Barrymore. They capture the bond between two women who love each other unconditionally, for better or worse.
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Writer: Morwenna Banks
Starring: Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter.