Jess (Drew Barrymore) is reminiscing about her best friend Milly (Toni Collette), who she met when they were in primary school after her parents emigrated to Britain, and they soon became inseperable, spending as much time as they could together. They did so much with one another, being there for all the important things in their lives, that they were more like sisters than friends, and when Milly met her husband-to-be Kit (Dominic Cooper), Jess was there to help her through the ups and downs of the relationship, perhaps more than the irresponsible Milly was for her with her marriage to Jago (Paddy Considine). As Jess was trying to get pregnant, Milly already had her kids, but then bad news arrived – very bad news.
Beaches is probably the benchmark for movies where female best friends suffer the test of a major illness breaking up their close connection, and Miss You Already was evidently attempting to be a British version of that for the early twenty-first century. Whether it succeeded was a different matter, as they say comparisons are odious and some felt this was too faithfully following the Beaches template to really be its own movie, but with screenwriter Morwenna Banks guiding the plot there was perhaps a less sentimental and more pragmatic tone here, though the conclusion remained the same, to make the audience cry, even after the laughter had been provided, or so they hoped.
Weepies, as they were known, were a staple of so-called women's pictures ever since the inception of cinema, but after many decades of inviting us to wallow in our emotions, there came a way of thinking that we were not supposed to see a movie to make us cry so much as to make us laugh, or at least provide some escapism from the harsher realities of life, or indeed death. There were still films made where the point was a catharsis through suffering along with the characters as our surrogates, but quite often that had become the provenance of horrors or more basic, disturbing drama, which were usually high concept and not playing out a scenario that was likely to occur to the vast majority of the audience.
Cancer was different, since if you live long enough you’re guaranteed to know someone who has had it, or even have fallen victim to it yourself, but there was a lot in the culture that saw it relegated to hospital soaps on television, and when it was introduced into films it came across as contrived and a cynical way of manipulating our feelings. So it was an uphill climb Banks and her director Catherine Hardwicke had to undertake to sell this premise to us, and this was a project that took some years to be made, with big stars falling by the wayside when it hit yet another setback. That could have been a blessing in disguise, as Barrymore and Collette had an easy rapport that maybe didn't quite convince us they had been pals since childhood, but did have us believe the actresses were getting along famously, so it wasn’t outwith the realms of possibility.
Of course, this wasn't just a terminal illness drama, it was an IVF drama too, so Jess has to face up to the twin dilemmas of seeing her best friend waste away and try to bring a new life into the world at the same time. And not only that, there was even more on the film’s plate since they were endeavouring to make us laugh as well, and there were enough good lines in the script to prompt a few chuckles, though the essential grimness of the cancer plot worked against the overall moves towards comedy. Some found Milly annoying, but it was a growing trend in comedy that serious things happening to silly people was quite effective at bringing about the tears, assuming you didn't get too crass with it, and we could at least understand why she leaves her husband for a younger model in desperation that her life is slipping away and she wants to deny that inevitability for a while. The whole thing was neatly put across with sympathy and a lack of callousness that might not have toppled Beaches from its throne, but was a very decent, if occasionally overbearing, effort. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams.