MOVIE REVIEW: Miss You Already

MISS YOU ALREADY (M)
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Stars: Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine

Director: Catherine Hardwicke

Screening: Selected cinemas

Rating: ★★★

CATHERINE Hardwicke, the Los-Angeles based Texan who gave us Thirteen and the first Twilight movie, crosses the Atlantic here to direct Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore in a female friendship ‘‘tramedy’’ set in London. That’s a film that is both comedy and tragedy, and I promise never to use the word again.

Who wouldn’t cross an ocean to work with those two? Collette can do anything, and often does; Barrymore does very little, but she brings a tonne of love with her. It’s hard to think of an actress so beloved; she doesn’t always show a great range but she has that lopsided grin that says: ‘‘I’ve seen some life and come out the other side.’’

Casting her as the best friend is clever, because Collette’s character here needs someone to convince us that she’s loveable. If she didn’t have breast cancer, it would be easy to dismiss her as spoiled and irritating. The disease doesn’t change that; it just amplifies it, which is also clever.

We want to judge her, but we can’t, because we must have pity on anyone fighting cancer. That makes it both morehuman and more challenging.

Actress and writer Morwenna Banks lost three friends to breast cancer, so she wrote a radio play about it. Here it is a movie about 10 things: vivid, occasionally funny, but not as funny as it thinks; heartbreaking and gut-wrenching; too self-aware and hipster by half; and true enough when it matters to be disturbing and confronting.

If you get the sense that I was both moved and frustrated by it, you’d be right, but I think that was what Hardwicke intended. She tries to avoid gross sentiment. She fails, but she puts up a fight.

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette are best friends in Miss You Already.

Movies about cancer almost never avoid that swamp. This one tries to skirt it by focusing on 30years of friendship between Milly, an English girl, and Jess, an American who arrived at the same school when they were about six.

For anyone being treated for cancer, the movie will be close to home. For those who have lost someone, it will bring back awful memories. For the young, who may not have thought about it, Miss You Already might be an eye-opener, or a glum introduction to a place they don’t want to go.

Forget that it’s about cancer. As a film about female friendship, it has some energy and style, not least because these two actors are so lovely together.

Collette never loses Milly’s humanity, even when she’s behaving badly. Barrymore oozes affection and humour in every scene. I would have preferred more of that bond, because films about cancer just knock everything else into the wings. It’s just so implacable in a dramatic sense, like a herd of elephants tramping through Regent’s Park.

As in life, everything becomes about the illness, no matter how hard the filmmakers try to hold it back.

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