Catherine Hardwicke’s mixed bag of a dramedy, Miss You Already, about two friends dealing with a life-changing illness, eases its way onto Blu-ray this month. In the interests of full-disclosure, I will mention that I almost had to recuse myself from this review after watching the first half hour. My mother underwent treatment for breast cancer ten years ago and, while her case was different from the one presented on film for many reasons, it was occasionally difficult to separate my own emotions from the film’s emotions.
Miss You Already treats of the occasionally fraught friendship between Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore), two close friends who have always been the most important person in each other’s lives. By far the wilder of the two, Milly is happily married to a rock-star husband Kit (Dominic Cooper), while Jess has settled down in a houseboat with her workingman Jago (Paddy Considine). Drama ensues when Milly learns she has aggressive breast cancer and will have to undergo chemotherapy and surgery. The film follows the pair as they deal with Milly’s prognosis and treatment, into the vagaries of fear, anger, and the complexities of friendship.
A plot synopsis of Miss You Already fails to do justice to what the film manages to (imperfectly) achieve. Yes, many of the familiar clichés of these kinds of films are hit upon, from strained marriages to strained friendships to potential infidelity as the result of emotional upheaval. Milly tries to deal with her illness with humor and sarcasm, but it’s obvious that she’s frightened, and with good reason. Everyone around her is frightened too, trying to cope with her illness in their own, often contradictory ways.
The film mostly avoids slipping into over-sentimentality or triteness, and some scenes are extraordinarily powerful for their humanness and restraint. Miss You Already also doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of cancer treatment, or the effects it has both on the patient and the people surrounding her. Milly’s physical weakness, her fear of becoming unattractive to her husband and to herself, her anger at the unfairness of her disease, and the way the rest of her family and friends, especially Jess, manage their relationships with her, all are poignant and well-played, avoiding descent into total cliché.
Much of the film’s strength comes from the cast, especially Collette and Barrymore, who inject complexity into what could have been simplistic characters. Collette’s Milly is a collection of contradictions: obsessed with her image and her looks, she’s also a good mother and wife, a powerful woman, and a loving friend, going through a terrible illness and trying – and not always succeeding – to maintain her sense of humor.
She’s mirrored by Jess, played with great restraint by Barrymore as a basically quiet and decent woman well used to her friend’s vagaries, but not always indulgent of them. Together, they paint a picture of a deep and abiding friendship, one that rings beautifully true. The rest of the cast is likewise excellent, also managing to escape the underlying clichés that so often plague their character types.
But Miss You Already never quite rises to the levels to which it aspires. Hardwicke makes a few unfortunate choices, particularly at the beginning of the film, choosing to elide over the beginning of Milly and Jess’s friendship in a montage that will easily put some viewers off. There are several such montages throughout the film, indicating that Hardwicke is perhaps more willing to rely on dramedy clichés than her cast.
The final act also gives in to some of the more unfortunate and manipulative requirements of the genre, and so some of the film feels more like a set-up than an honest examination of friendship. Shorn of some of its pretenses, Miss You Already could have been a much better film than it is; yet for all that it’s certainly not a poor one.
Presented in 1080p High Definition, Miss You Already is visually attractive, with popping colors that do justice to the film’s surprisingly complex palette. I did have some difficulty with the mixing on the soundtrack, however, and was forced to turn on the subtitles for some sections of the film.
The special features are what one might expect from a well-budgeted dramedy. It’s quite nice to see extended filmmaker’s commentary and some deleted scenes – I don’t think we get enough of those – as well as a brief featurette on the making of Miss You Already. This gives insight into what is, literally, a women’s film, with interviews with the writer Morwenna Banks, director Catherine Hardwicke, and the stars.
Beyond that, however, there are two music videos attached, neither of which particularly contribute to enjoyment of the film, unless you’re a fan of The All-American Rejects or Paloma Faith, but are perfectly enjoyable in their own right. “A Director’s Lookbook For Milly’s Party” and a photogallery of on-set selfies round out the disc.
Miss You Already is an imperfect film, not always certain of its place in or out of genre, and thus difficult to define. It is also a poignant and humorous and, above all, honest treatment of female friendship and love, a story about two women who mean the world to one another. Elevated by its cast and well grounded in its sentiments, Miss You Already might not be groundbreaking, but not every film has to be great. It is satisfied to simply be good.