On a certain level, one wants to fully embrace a film like “Miss You Already.” Yes, it’s essentially another disease movie-of-the-week, with the film following Milly (Toni Collette) as she deals with the physical and emotional effects of her breast cancer on not only her family—including her husband Kit (Dominic Cooper) and her mother Miranda (Jacqueline Bisset)—but on Jess (Drew Barrymore), with whom she has been inseparable best friends since childhood. But instead of dwelling in the expected misery, Catherine Hardwicke’s film focuses on the bond between the two female friends, and to some degree, their palpable chemistry together drives the film, infusing the weepie material with the kind of warmth and humor that some might consider “life-affirming.”
In this case, though, such high spirits can only do so much to disguise just how generic this film ultimately is. Certainly, “Miss You Already“ treads well-worn dramatic territory in its depiction of a woman dealing with a fatal illness (it’s a trope that goes back to not only many a Lifetime Channel movie from the 1990s, but all the way back to Alexandre Dumas’ “The Lady of the Camellias”in the 19th century, if not much earlier). Worse than offering no especially fresh angles on its cliched material, however, are the trite characterizations of the two lead female characters. An opening montage breezily establishes the origins and contours of Jess and Milly’s relationship: The former, an American, immediately bonds with the latter, a native Brit, upon her arrival in the U.K.; and they end up sharing everything from first kisses to first sexual experiences with each other. But as the film goes on and Milly’s health gradually deteriorates, these characters never significantly expand beyond our initial impressions of them: Jess the relative plain Jane to Milly’s wilder child. Instead of allowing these characters to surprise us in ways that would make these characters feel like three-dimensional human beings, screenwriter Morwenna Banks simply dials up the jokey banter between the two, as if trusting that the hearty rapport between Barrymore and Collette would be enough to paper over the cracks.
Perhaps Banks and Hardwicke believe that, by keeping character specifics to a minimum, they’re offering us a “universal” tale of love and friendship amid even the most grueling of trials. Instead, the under-imagined characters have the effect of dulling out one’s interest in them—fatal to a story that depends on engendering our emotional involvement to make the tearjerking moments land effectively. And the filmmakers do themselves no favors by eventually relying on sentimental conventions: the random road trip that may well represent Milly’s last time visiting a particular place (the Moors in this case) she has long wanted to explore; the impromptu rowdy sing-along to signify deep friendship (R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” does the soundtrack honors this time around); the familiar-sounding indie pop songs underscoring the more overtly emotional moments. As a result, there’s not really much for a viewer to latch onto in “Miss You Already” beyond watching these glorified types go through their paces on the way to an all-too-inevitable destination. [C-]