Many viewers will likely call Toni Collette “brave” for shaving her head in Catherine Hardwicke’s cancer-themed dramedy Miss You Already, but one wonders how many will also cite the actress’s wildly naturalistic laughter, which is of a piece with the emotional ebb and flow of the film. As Milly, a sweet, yet vain, mother and wife who’s rocked by her fateful diagnosis, Collette is expectedly vivacious embodying this woman facing such dire straits. Her portrayal of grace under pressure, specifically via that boisterous laugh, both sells Miss You Already’s philosophy of dying well (Milly can bellow into a cocktail while tucking dead locks of hair into her pocket), and saves it from being what the same film may have been sans Collette: forgettable.
Her performance has its drawbacks. She steals the show from Drew Barrymore, who stars as Milly’s lifelong best friend, Jess. Barrymore is convincing enough as the low-key level head to Collette’s historically heedless vixen, but the balance Milly and Jess supposedly give to each other is eclipsed by the sense that the actresses don’t do the same. It may be telling that Rachel Weisz, not Barrymore, was initially slated to play Jess, as Barrymore feels somewhat shoehorned into the London-set production. Her function as Collette’s foil is serviceably fulfilled when the girls, say, indulge their love of Wuthering Heights with a trip to the North York Moors, but Jess never even feels at home with her squeeze, Jago (Paddy Considine), in the myriad ways Milly does with her ever-struggling hubbie, Kit (Dominic Cooper).
Just as she was scarily exacting with the frenemy relationship at the core of Thirteen, Hardwicke is unyielding in stressing the many pros and cons of Jess telling—or not telling—the very ill Milly that she’s pregnant. Working from a script by Morwenna Banks, who adapts her own 2013 BBC radio play, Goodbye, Hardwicke expertly translates the sort of convoluted, mixed-message concerns of a teen-girl exchange into the very pivotal, life-and-death circumstances of grown women. She may not have made the next Beaches, and she may be shameless enough to opt for a tweaked race-to-the-airport climax, but Miss You Already winningly reflects how to utilize quiet understandings and, yes, very loud laughter.