An unsentimental yet sincere depiction of illness and friendship
It may not have a particularly original plot and may be presented in a way that is ultimately wildly manipulative (read as: you will cry) the film itself is admirable in what it, mostly, achieves. It presents a relatively honest depiction of breast cancer; the impact it places upon relationships both platonic and romantic along with the physical toll it takes. Whilst that alone is immensely refreshing, this is furthered by the presentation of a friendship that will resonate with audiences’.
Millie (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) have been best friends since childhood. They have experienced every first together, everything from first kiss to first child, with their polar opposite personalities allowing them to bring out the best in each other. Whilst Jess is more conservative and stable, Millie is the overconfident and glamourous wild-child yet they are totally and completely inseparable. Both are happily married, yet rather than this separating them their respective husbands (Millie is married to Dominic Cooper’s Kit with Jess married to Paddy Considine’s Jago) and Millie’s two children instead make up one big family. But the family is rocked by Millie’s life-altering diagnosis of breast cancer, just as Jess finds out that she is pregnant with her much-longed for first child, which will put their friendship and their makeshift family to the ultimate test.
Collette does any amazing job (as is to be expected) playing Millie. Her acting, along with the screenplay and the film’s direction avoid what many similar films have done in the past, of making the person suffering from cancer into some sort of saint or martyr. Instead Millie stays the same as it is implied she always was – a mostly well-meaning but often not very nice person. This feature is really the film’s only comparatively unique feature. This, along with the portrayal of her treatment, make the film feel more honest and in a sense more brutal than others of this kind. Millie starts the film loud and vulgar, and although she spends the majority of the film in an oncology unit, she still stays the same person. Cancer doesn’t ‘fix’ her personalities ‘faults’, at times it only exacerbates them, consequently making her more relatable than many other presentations of the disease. It’s a reminder that cancer can, and with the current odds will, affect all of us whether we are good, bad or, like Millie, the grey area in-between.
However, it would be wrong to say this film is truly great or fully lives up to its potential. As we only see Jess and Millie’s friendship through flashback or montage, we are unable to fully latch onto their story. Aside from their respective health concerns, and a few references to a shared love of Wuthering Heights and R.E.M’s Losing My Religion, we aren’t really given enough about what makes them such good friends. The film constantly tells us this, but never shows us quite enough to engage us fully with their bond and ultimately does not earn the empathy it had the potential to do so.
Nevertheless, the ensemble cast, with Collette at the forefront, are all reliable and supply solid performances. Jacqueline Bisset is fantastic as Millie’s actress mother, Frances de la Tour momentarily steals the show in her short appearance as a wig-maker and Tyson Ritter (lead singer of All American Rejects) pops up as a swaggering barman.
From the opening of the film the inevitable outcome is presented, yet it will withhold interest and induce multiple bursts of tears throughout.