BFFs in London find their near-lifelong bond tested after one of them is diagnosed with breast cancer, occasioning a roller-coaster of emotions, wrong-things-said and reconciliations that, however true some of them may ring, come straight from a well-thumbed weepie playbook. Despite having the integrity to dwell on hospital visits that holiday moviegoers will probably prefer to tune out, “Miss You Already” tests patience with a barrage of peppy pop-tune montages that strain to put an uplifting spin on a grim trajectory. Helmer Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight,” “Thirteen”) brings energy and craft to screenwriter-thesp Morwenna Banks’ maudlin, occasionally shameless script. Still, notwithstanding appealing lead performances by Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore, the depressing subject matter makes the pic likely to be missed by most moviegoers when Lionsgate/Roadside releases it Nov. 6.
In a prologue, we learn that American Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Brit Milly (Toni Collette) met as schoolgirls after Jess’ dad was transferred to London from Oregon. They grew up together, with wild Milly often leading the way on such milestones as their same-night virginity loss at a rock concert. A narrating Jess remarks that she never had many photos without Milly in them — “until now.” And on that line, “Miss You Already” drops its hammer of a title card, and an oncologist diagnoses the lump in Milly’s breast as malignant before the film has hit the 10-minute mark.
The remainder puts much of its emphasis on showing the difficulty of Milly’s treatment and how it affects those around her. She screens a video that explains chemo to her two children; soon after, Hardwicke supplies a lingering closeup of the IV needle being inserted into her hand. Milly goes to a wigmaker (Frances de la Tour) who outfits her with a hairpiece she says was made for a Scorsese film. Milly’s ex-goth-gone-straight husband, Kit (Dominic Cooper), loses sexual interest in his wife after she has a double mastectomy, the results of which she shows to Jess. Milly’s mother, TV star Miranda (a scene-stealing, bleach-haired Jacqueline Bisset), seems too poor a judge of others — and has too much joie de vivre — to cope with the situation. Her well-meaning inquiries about Milly’s progress only make the circumstances tougher.
Complicating matters is Jess’ desire to become a mother herself with her boyfriend, Jago (Paddy Considine), who — because this is a movie of impossibly witty manly men — often works for long periods as a driller on a rig. When the two of them conceive through IVF, Jess, who is as close to Milly as she is to Jago (and is surely the least-British American ever raised on that side of the pond), struggles to share the news with her friend, not wanting to admit that her life has hit a high point just as Milly’s world and family are falling apart.
And with that, roughly halfway through, “Miss You Already” has played most of its cards, the first sign of desperation being when Milly drags Jess on an impulsive, only-in-the-movies road trip to the moors, where they can see the setting of a mutually beloved book, “Wuthering Heights,” and dance in the grass to “Losing My Religion,” joined by their patient London cab driver (Mem Ferda). Unbeknownst to Jess, Milly also plans to continue an affair with an American bartender (Tyson Ritter) who is staying in Yorkshire.
While Elliot Davis’ often-roving camera prevents the movie from feeling static, Hardwicke makes a fair number of strange formal choices (a make-up chat between Milly and Kit is cut together from pans of the two actors’ faces in closeup). The most misguided contrivance comes near the end when Jess, giving birth at the same hospital where Milly has been going for treatment, is cheered on via video chat by Jago and his fellow riggers from a thunderstorm at sea. In such overwrought moments, “Miss You Already” forfeits any claims to credibility.
The closing credits are done in the style of Candy Chang’s global Before I Die wall project, which is featured in the film.