‘Miss You Already’
Catherine Hardwicke
Stars: Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

In the last year it’s been gutting watching a rarely livelier Julianne Moore pass on, mentally in the Alzheimer’s drama “Still Alice” and physically in the otherwise dodgy “Freeheld.” “Miss You Already” has a similar painful hook: You get to behold as Toni Collette, at her most spirited, slowly succumbs to cancer. On the plus side, at least it’s British. The film is very English about looming death, meaning every grim development is caked in gallows humor — jokes deployed not to ignore tragedy but to defy it. Collette’s Milly, who was just a happy 40-something trying to balance mature family life with living like she was still 20, doesn’t go quietly. She grumbles, but she also tries to find the silver lining when, say, chemo robs her of her hair. She’s joking even after the cancer spreads.

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“Miss You Already” has another way of softening the blow. It’s also a portrait of longtime female friendship. Milly has an aging hipster husband (Dominic Cooper) who doesn’t always have the emotional maturity to deal with her pain. But she also has Jess (Drew Barrymore), her American bestie since childhood. Honestly, their lived-in relationship is lovely but familiar (but lovely), and the script — by English comedy show staple Morwenna Banks (the hilariously undermining secretary on “Saxondale”) — often neglects to give them shared screentime. That last part at least makes sense sense: This is a funny-tough film about not just cancer but the messy segue into adulthood and responsibility, when home life and kids (or in Jess’ case, pregnancy) rob you of face-time with friends and anything else you once might have enjoyed on your own.

Banks’ screenplay — and the performances, including Paddy Considine as Jess’ alternately passive-aggressive and goofy hubs — is spirited, and it’s filled with lived-in details and refreshing insights, especially amongst the disease genre. Among the best is Milly’s worrying over no longer being considered an attractive physical specimen, especially after she undergoes a mastectomy. She grouches about the pitying looks she gets from loved ones, and the film is right along with her. It’s understandable that it occasionally turns stock. Milly and Jess suffer through the requisite end-of-second-act falling out, though at least it’s over a real complaint and not purely melodramatic silliness. It has the power of its convictions, and it also has Toni Collette. That makes up for a lot, even in a film that doesn’t have that much to atone for in the first place.

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