Last week’s 99c movie was going to be a sure-fire weepy. When I was younger, I used to refer to these as ‘physical assistance movies’ because I was rendered so incapable by the crying they induced in me that I felt I would need to be helped from the cinema, propped on the arm of a friend as I sobbed inconsolably.
Beaches falls into this category, as does Terms of Endearment and also Steel Magnolias, all of them stories about women, one of whom is not going to make it to the end credits. Beaches, of course famously managed to twist the knife even further by making the loud shouty friend (who would normally, ironically be the the one who is felled) the one who survives and thus was born one of the most successful versions of songs to rank in funeral choice top tens: Wind Beneath My Wings.
I have read a few articles about the provenance of Miss You Already so I know the source material was based on real stories of four women, and perhaps that is part of the problem that I had with the film. Don’t get me wrong, it does what is sets out to do. I was a howling fat-faced pink-eyed mess by the end of it, but there were things throughout the movie that kept bumping me out of the experience.
The performances are all strong, with a too thin looking Toni Collette (even before she got sick) playing the loud, abrasive BFF of Drew Barrymore, who is desperately trying to have a baby with her other half, played by Paddy Considine. The first problems I had were with the characters. Their history is told in one of a couple of montages that spring up in the film and I straight away found it tricky investing in the back story, none of which served up any payoff for the main plot.
I guess the central idea, though, that cancer never plays fair and people do not always rise to the occasion and behave with dignity as a response to their illness is a worthy one, even if Collette’s character became more and more annoying to watch as her behaviour became spiteful and selfish towards those trying to support her. Granted, she was entitled to this and if the film had just focused on that it may have been great. There were a couple of really powerful scenes as the reality of the treatment and the disease was setting in.
The problem is that there was so much other stuff fighting for space in the characters’ lives: the BFF trying to get pregnant (we know she from the beginning she does as the opening scene is her in the delivery room), was a whole other plot fighting for air, the angelic husband who had apparently transformed overnight from a rock and roll star into a faithful stay-at-home hubby was frankly too good to be true, the mother (of course the mother), and the desperate attempts at comedy which muddled the tone of the film because it was situational not character driven, and in one case, barmy.
I also got distracted by the way time was handled in the film. It seemed odd. The disease was supposed to be aggressive, but the speed that it all happened – along with the changing nature of the relationships with hubby and BFF (which was within the nine months of the BFF pregnancy) seemed unreal. Perhaps because the central character was a composite of the four in the original? Or maybe the cancer really was that bad. I don’t know.
When you have a cast as good as this, it is a shame that they are sometimes fighting for equal rights with the film’s determination to squeeze everything it can into the running time. I would have liked more time with the characters and less with the plot, because as one particularly poignant scene demonstrated, you can do more with an almost dialogue free scene where a friend is forced to confront the torn post-operative body of her mate, than you can with a hundred lines of dialogue.