Miss You Already begins with some brief narration over a collage of photographs—each one of Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) smiling or laughing or getting into some kind of trouble. In a wonderful line that describes the essence of their friendship—as well as many friendships in general—Jess says, “There weren’t many photos of me that she wasn’t in.” But when she adds an ominous, “Until now,” it becomes a line that encapsulates the movie. These two women have been friends since Jess moved to London from America as a young girl, and will be until one of them is out of the picture.
And, as we find out quickly enough, it’s Milly whose image is fading. While Barrymore’s Jess has spent her adult life focusing on her low-paying but emotionally rewarding career in some kind of NGO-centric career and living on a houseboat with her her adoring, blue collar husband—Milly has taken a more typical (and lucrative) route. She’s married to a handsome former rocker and successful businessman played by the always welcome Dominic Cooper, has two beautiful kids, and a high-powered career in PR. But she can’t have it all forever.
After the diagnosis of a malignant lump in her breast, we watch Milly struggle to accept the bad news (she so rarely gets any), and decide how to tell her husband, children, and Jess. She’ll need chemotherapy, that much is for certain, but what if it gets worse? No matter. She takes it one day at a time, making the most of a bad situation by bringing Jess along to her chemo treatments, going wig hunting with her loving—if oblivious—TV star mother (Jaccqueline Bisset), and continuing to work as though nothing’s wrong.
But, because this is Beaches for a new generation, things keep going wrong. And when Jess finds herself pregnant, she can’t bear to reveal such exciting and happy news to her suffering friend who may not even be around for its birth. The chemo, turns out, wasn’t effective, which leads to the a double mastectomy, which leads to a series of surprising (and, frankly, odd) narrative choices, including a shared love of Wuthering Heights and REM (I know, I know) that exists only so that Jess and Milly can have a climactic fight on the moors.
Director Catherine Hardwicke does her best to bring a certain artfulness to these moments, but Morwenna Banks’s not-quite-there screenplay regularly reminds us that this is nothing more than a well polished tearjerker. And Barrymore, though likable as always, just can’t match up to Collette’s achingly wonderful performance as Milly.
But, as a pure tearjerker, it gets the job done, and the movie’s final half hour is a masterclass in weepy conclusions. We ugly-cry because it’s a bleak and honest depiction of terminal cancer, we ugly-cry because we’re happy to watch people make something good out of a dreary situation, and we keep doing this—back and forth— until the credits roll. It’s the finale we both dreaded and hoped for, and is nearly effective enough to make you forget you were rolling your eyes at a line of dialogue from an earlier scene.
At funerals, you’re often told to avoid mournful tears, and instead celebrate a life well lived. But Miss You Already isn’t a funeral, it’s a movie designed to make total wrecks of its audience. And though its success at doing so is nothing to cry about, you probably will anyway.
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Image via Lionsgate.