A respectful moment of silence, please, for Toni Collette’s dazzling acting range. Whether she is playing an Irish alcoholic mother (Glassland) or a frumpy Chicago lawyer (In Her Shoes), her spirited performances always seem to land squarely on target. Like Meryl Streep, she is worth watching in any role, simply because it’s Toni Collette. Whether it’s snot-strewn tears, melodrama or a steely gaze, Toni’s yer only man.
Here, she plays former wild child Milly with a very best friend Jess (Drew Barrymore), devoted husband Kit (Dominic Cooper), two lively kids and a sexy job in music PR. We’re led to believe that Milly and Jess are soulmates in complete step with each other. They’ve done everything together, from reading Wuthering Heights to first boyfriends. Milly was always a step ahead, finding a husband and settling down first. And now, after finding out she has terminal cancer, it looks as though she will be forging ahead in another way, too.
Milly does what most cancer patients do: she diligently shows up to appointments, grimly accepts the loss of her breasts and tries to weather the loss of her hair and the wretched feeling of sickness with steely pragmatism. Yet despite doing everything right and playing by the rules of life’s most dastardly slave driver, Milly is eventually told to expect the worst.
As it happens, Jess — who has been as faithful and supportive a companion as any cancer patient would wish for — is finally getting everything she wants in her life, including a much-wanted baby with her partner Jago (Paddy Considine).
Where Toni Collette often displays an abundance of interiority in her acting, Drew Barrymore, in this film at least, displays very little. A shame, really, because Barrymore is so lovable and charismatic in most other projects. Save for a rather, er, energetic scene in the beginning of the film, Barrymore is cool and calm throughout, and not strictly in a good way. Perhaps Jess is meant to be the ‘gathered’ one in the friendship, but next to the might of Collette’s rousing acting, Barrymore’s performance can seem a bit dialled in.
It’s a curious casting choice, given that the film is so earthy and British in almost every other respect. Miss You Already bears a couple of Richard Curtis-inspired, Brit-flick hallmarks; all quirky houseboats and trendy mews houses. So to hear words like ‘arsebucket’ and ‘bloody’ in Barrymore’s American diction (Jess arrived at school in Britain aged 10 and the experience didn’t soften her accent one bit) is a bit jarring. There is one scene in which Jess lets her guard down; while dancing on the Yorkshire moors in the headlights of a taxi. It’s a scene that catches in the chest. How perfect the film could have been if every scene had this tenderness.
Anyway, Miss You Already is a love story in the main; a tribute to the resilience of female friendship, even if it changes form over time. Neither the script nor the camera shirks away from the grislier, more difficult parts of Milly’s journey.
We are there every step of the horrid way, from the doctor’s room to the calm of the hospice bed. It makes for a harrowing experience, and there were certainly no shortage of tears and sniffles in the press preview screening I went to.
This year there has been no dearth of films about friendship or, for that matter, terminal illness; both seem particularly modish to Hollywood right now. But Miss You Already is a considered and authentic look at both that most other films rarely master. It’s Beaches for a Facebook generation, and one that will be watched with Kleenex, best friends and ice-cream for years to come.
With its star-studded cast and creeping sense of impending doom, Everest reminded me of the classic 1970s disaster movies, in which the hairdos of leading ladies were built to withstand tornadoes, earthquakes and other cataclysms. The bigger the star, the better chance they had of surviving whatever nightmare was thrown at them, though that is one unwritten disaster movie rule Everest doesn't adhere to.