Saturday, 7 November 2015

Miss You Already (2015) - Movie Review

My past reviews of films featuring Kristen Stewart have made running jokes out of this, but in all honesty it’s a really good thing that the stars of former record-holder for Biggest Godwin’s Law Breaker, Twilight, have moved past that famed series. Anna Kendrick has become an accomplished actor/singer thanks to films like Pitch Perfect and Into The Woods, Robert Pattinson has done acclaimed work with visionaries like David Cronenberg, and Kristen Stewart has come to seriously impress crowds thanks to films like Camp X-Ray, Still Alice and American Ultra. Not only that, regular writer of the series Melissa Rosenberg has entered into the Marvel Cinematic fold with the web series Jessica Jones and Stephanie Meyer… has largely gone quiet and rested on her franchise royalties, thank all things right with the world.

[whispering from behind me, even though this is a text review and not in any way audio/visual where this could be properly conveyed]

Wait, she wrote what?

[more inaudible whispering]

Oh, for crying out loud!

Well, point is, for the most part, they’ve largely moved on from that crater of a saga. But what about the original film’s director Catherine Hardwicke?

The plot: Ever since they first met as kids, Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been inseparable and always shared every experience they had, regardless of what their respective husbands (Dominic Cooper and Paddy Considine) had to say. However, once Milly is diagnosed with cancer, it seems that their perfect connection may end up getting more than a little rocky as things progress, not helped by Jess’ own stresses about starting a family.

The cast here are all really good on screen and have great chemistry with one another. Toni Collette sells the frankly egocentric Milly without coming across as too insufferable; trust me, minor things like having cancer aren’t enough for viewing audiences today to automatically sympathise with a character on screen. The character still needs to have an element of likeability which, given how she’s characterised for the majority of the film, is essential here and thankfully Collette delivers. Drew Barrymore, who I honestly thought was just going to crawl back under the woodwork after Blended last year, pretty much shows every reason why she should be getting more work than she has of late. Dominic Cooper, in probably his first good performance in way too long, manages to work through the rather shaky characterisation he’s been given here; then again, he’s gone far worse with better writing, so I’ve learnt to be thankful. Paddy Considine… okay, this is another instance where the jokes are a little too easy to make. I mean, going from Shakespeare to a film by the director of Twilight; careers are made from the material that provides. Nevertheless, Considine probably comes out the best in terms of comedy, with Barrymore coming a close second, as he delivers all of his banter and wry dialogue with panache.

The cinematography is… iffy, to say the least. DOP Elliot Davis brings some decent ideas every so often, like a conversation between Milly and Jess where the camera work for Jess (on a houseboat) is stable while Milly’s (at home) is rocking from side-to-side. I could play the obscure geek card and claim that this is a technique ripped straight from an episode of Urban Gothic, but instead I’ll just say that it was executed well. However, something tells me that Davis has watched Grace Of Monaco a few too many times, as this film has a similar issue concerning a lot of its close-ups. Namely, how it looks like the camera is about go up the actor’s nose, almost as if the cameraman broke the zoom function on the rig. This especially hurts during the more dramatic moments, but then again this film has the lion’s share of issues when it comes to its own drama.

This is a very funny script, making for nice and warm moments between the characters; this is to be expected from someone with a hefty background in comedy like writer Morwenna Banks. However, this marks one of the few times when just how funny the dialogue can get ends up being a bad thing for the overall film. This film is just too sugary for its own good, as it keeps up a mainly jovial tone throughout the film, even during the scenes that are meant to be taken seriously. Now, despite my glibness about the subject matter before, I want to make this perfectly clear: Cancer is a subject that just has to be taken with an obtuse degree of seriousness if it is going to be used at all, much like any other life-threatening medical condition. Considering this, a decent amount of comedy is definitely needed in order to keep the tone of the production from being too bleak for some audiences to take.

However, this film isn’t a case of laughing in the face of the darkness; instead, it’s more like covering one’s eyes and pretending that the darkness doesn’t exist at all. No matter what is happening in any given scene, from when Milly cheats on her husband to when she gets chemotherapy, the drama is always undercut by the film’s need to constantly crack jokes, usually in the form of either Milly and/or Jess. Save for the ending, the tone is so haphazard that I’m not entirely sure how seriously to take it. Now, I completely understand that there are people out there who don’t like overly sad films. However, as much as people may argue otherwise, there still needs to be some form of reality in a film; everyone being this nonchalant about someone having cancer and possibly dying is, frankly, unrealistic to a rather insulting degree. Making jokes about big pricks when your friend is getting injected with a large needle for her chemo is the behaviour of a sociopath, not someone we should be sympathizing with. Then again, to quote one of my contemporaries, this film and reality don’t often meet.

The relationship between Milly and Jess, the core of this entire film, feels hollow for one simple reason: No conflict. Throughout the majority of the film, we don’t see them so much as frown at each other, even when situations pop up that should produce at least some friction. Not to say that there isn’t any conflict at all, as the penny is in the air for the majority of it just waiting to drop when the two finally come to blows. Hell, this might make for the only time I actively wanted the clichéd third-act break-up to occur just to shake things up between them. It’s more the point that it doesn’t happen enough to make this connection feel believable; I don’t care how close you are to anyone, no two people get along this well. What makes this feel worse is that there is conflict elsewhere in the story: Between Milly, Jess and their respective spouses; usually, the reasons why they’re fighting is in response to Milly and Jess’ relationship. As much as I hate the term ‘chick flick’ because of how it used nowadays, this is the kind of writing that immediately comes to mind whenever that term is used: Hiding whatever ‘heavy’ emotion is building up inside until the last possible moment. That may be an all-too-easy set-up for a sexist joke but, unlike this film, I know when to rein it in.

All in all, this is a film that has monumental tonal issues. The writing is rather funny in places, with some more than capable actors to deliver it, but the overall treatment of both the main cancer plot and the relationship between our female leads is so badly misguided that it reaches the point where the comedy ends up serving to its detriment more than anything else. I’m sure that there are some people out there that will find the proceedings more emotionally fulfilling than I did (hell, I visibly saw a woman convulsing with sobs as she watched the film), but frankly, this reaches the levels of pandering that I have unfortunately come to expect from Catherine Hardwicke; I eagerly await the day, if it ever comes, that she proves me wrong.

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