Entering the theater for Miss You Already, I knew nothing of it beyond the one-sheet image, of Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette smiling and posing cheek to cheek, like they’d just made it to the front row of the Rod Stewart concert. Probably some buddy comedy, I assumed, about two best friends facing adversity and smiling through it all, the slings and arrows of modern life no match for their unbreakable bond. Friendship! Cheeky friendship!
Then at some point during the opening montage, a look back at how Barrymore and Collette’s characters became friends — featuring them sharing a series of life milestones, first kiss, virginity loss, etc., followed by squeals (they literally shout “first kiss!” after their first kiss) and still more cheek-to-cheek smiles — I started to wonder, But wait, what’s up with that title?
“I didn’t have many pictures that Milly wasn’t in.” Drew’s character informs us via voice over during the montage. “She was always there.”
Oh no, there’s going to be a Tragic Event, isn’t there? No opening montage is ever this happy except for use as contrast to make the inevitable sad thing sadder. Then, when Miss You Already‘s first present-day scene shifted to an establishing shot at the oncologist’s office, I started to realize what I should’ve known all along. Oh sh*t, this is a cancer movie, isn’t it?
Studios have a way of soft-pedaling the cancer aspect of their cancer stories, even when it’s an integral part. 50/50‘s original title, for instance, was “I’m With Cancer,” which was eventually rejected in favor of anything without “cancer” in it, despite Joseph Gordon-Levitt shaving his head for chemo in the poster image. This is for good reason: Almost everyone has lost someone to cancer, and it’s not something many of us are rushing to revisit. Cancer narratives tend to be coated with a healthy amount of humor and personality to help the medicine go down.
A sad story has to feel personal, or else it just feels manipulative and sensational. There’s a higher burden: If you’re trying to make me laugh, I don’t question your motives as much (because, you know, I like to laugh). Miss You Already wants to stare the horrors of cancer square in the face (perhaps admirably, though I think I could’ve done without the vomit close-up) but it doesn’t quite have the personality to pull it off without all the sad stuff feeling slightly unearned.
As Milly, Toni Collette is game, as always, and a narrative focused on her character might’ve worked better than Miss You‘s attempt at a buddy flick. She and Barrymore, as Jess, don’t have a natural chemistry. The two are constantly throwing back their heads and cackling at everything the other says like they’re having the most fun in the world, and it just feels like overcompensation. Is screaming for no reason the only way you two can relate? They can’t quite bring us in for their in-jokes, and it comes off annoying when it’s trying to be endearing. Does anyone enjoy hearing strangers laugh loudly at jokes that aren’t funny? Unless I’m the one telling the jokes, no thanks.
Former wild child Barrymore has played the grounded girl, The Dorky One in her last few roles (an understandable career choice, what with people constantly referring to her as “former wild child” and all), but it doesn’t work for her, at least not here. Her performance clunks and rattles throughout, not helped by a script that requires her, as a character whose father transferred the family to London while she was in grade school, to pepper her otherwise entirely American speech with the occasional Britishism like “bloody” or “I’ve phoned him tuppence times!” Gag me with a lorry.
It’s a shame, because at the very least, Miss You Already deserves credit for its degree of difficulty. Not many directors would try to pull off cheeky girls’ night humor and honestly depicted double mastectomy scars in the same movie like Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke does here (working from a script by Morwenna Banks, adapted from her own radio play, Goodbye).
One of the bold choices that does pay off is the film’s depiction of a cancer patient as not entirely sympathetic. Milly is depicted as being a little selfish before the cancer, and facing mortality only magnifies it. Unlike 50/50, it’s the wild friend who gets the cancer in Miss You Already. Leading to a memorable scene where Jess yells “You are a cancer bully!”
It’s a unique, real moment in a movie that’s otherwise too often lacking. Miss You Already needs more of those and fewer familiar elements, like Milly being a powerful and vaguely defined PR exec. Too many rom-com conventional plot points and so-so jokes have a way of nudging the needle over from honest, personal story to contrived sadness porn. When Miss You Already does go dark, it feels simultaneously a little too false and a little too real.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.