By Bill Goodykoontz | Gannett News Service
Melodrama has its place in movies, and that place is about, oh, 1940.
This isn’t to say that more-contemporary audiences don’t enjoy the occasional weepie. “Terms of Endearment” brought strong men to tears (oh OK, college kids in my case, but it was sad). More recently “The Fault in Our Stars” was practically a saline-delivery vehicle.
“Miss You Already” is aiming for something similar but a little grittier, and it boasts a terrific performance by Toni Collette as a woman who develops breast cancer. But, despite the best efforts of director Catherine Hardwicke (“Thirteen”), who tries to steer clear of the rocky shores of maudlin tropes, it never quite rises above the trappings of what it is: an old-fashioned sad movie.
The film begins with Jess (Drew Barrymore) in labor, screaming in pain for her husband Jago (Paddy Considine) and her best friend Milly (Collette), neither of which is there. It’s a framing device, and we go through a quick montage of how Jess moved to England when her father’s work transferred him there and she became fast friends with Milly, who was kind to her (overlooking the American accent, all that).
They share everything; they were together when each had her first kiss, lost her virginity (um, yuck) and, on many occasions, got wasted in clubs. But eventually Milly got pregnant by and married to the Goth-leaning Kit (Dominic Cooper). Wild as reindeer, all of them, but they settle down into the kind of cool adulthood that is much easier to pull off in the movies than in real life.
So I’ve heard.
Kit and Milly start having kids and making lots of money. Jess does save-the-world work and dates Jago and they struggle to start a family.
And then Milly visits the doctor.
She has breast cancer, something she explains to her children by showing them an entertaining animated video. (“I want cancer!” her young son screams, and Collette dispatches him with a look that is equal parts amusement, horror and stern reproach that is as good as anything she does in the movie.)
Thus begins a rather predictable progression of the story arc. It seems horrible to criticize something like that, rather like kicking a puppy, because the intentions here are so laudable. And Hardwicke and screenwriter Morwenna Banks try to dress up an old story in new clothes – almost literally, as this is the type of movie you’ve seen before many times but everything is somehow … hipper.
That’s got to do with getting older, right? How else to explain the use of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” as a throwback tune that Jess, Milly and the most patient cabbie on earth (don’t ask) dance to as a nod to their youth.
Are we really that old? Yes, we are, and people get sick and people get better and people die. Sometimes the sick people aren’t the nicest, and sometimes they are. The world turns, and it doesn’t really matter how smart your shoes are. This seems to be what Hardwicke is after, an updated take on the sick-friend story. But that’s what it is, nothing more, no matter how you dress it up in cool clothes or put a hip soundtrack behind it. It doesn’t help that Barrymore and Collette don’t have much chemistry for best friends forever, but honestly, Collette’s work is so compulsively watchable that “Miss You Already” is worth a watch for that reason alone. And precious few others.
Roadside Attractions presents a film directed by Catherine Hardwicke and written by Morwenna Banks. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for thematic content, sexual material and some language). Opens Friday at local theaters.