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The draw here was all Toni Collette for me. Since The United States of Tara, I have always found her in these odd, but interesting movies, and I expected no less from this. Though I must admit, her playing opposite Drew Barrymore did worry me a bit. If only because when I think of Drew Barrymore, I think of someone who isn’t really trying to do much besides pay her bills and have a little fun while doing it. That is opposed to someone like Toni Collette who I put with Helen Mirren and Emma Thompson, who I would say is just as much about putting on stirring, and dramatic performance, as she is about having fun with her craft. Which lead to me watching this, with fingers crossed, that my indifference toward Barrymore wouldn’t ruin the movie for me.
Trigger Warning(s): Cancer Depiction
Characters & Story (with Commentary)
Since childhood Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) have been friends. Though one could argue, perhaps Milly was friends with Jess mostly because Jess didn’t know any one else, and Milly was the only one who accepted Jess’ American accent. Either way, the two grew up together, shared a lot of things, and even competed a little bit when it came to meeting life goals.
But then life stopped being peachy. Jess is trying to get pregnant, and Milly, who has two kids, a rocker husband, and a career in public relations, gets cancer. A disease which pretty much strips Milly bare and is like a sledgehammer to all her relationships, except perhaps her kids. Thus creating the type of test in which Milly is forced to find out between her best friend Jess, her husband, and her mother, who perhaps is only there for fun, silly, and jovial Milly, vs. the Milly whose world is crashing down and needs more than parties and jokes.
Collette’s performance really made me wish at times Jess and she weren’t two equal characters in this. The main reason being, in comparison to other media, that I know of, which features cancer patients, I can’t recall many which show how cancer not only ruins your body, but also your relationships, while also presenting a fully functional, and vibrant, life before and after. When it comes to one show, The Big C, I would argue that as much as the lead had a decent life, her family life wasn’t as appealing, and likable, as Milly. Then, when it comes to Emma Thompson’s Wit, that film went into such detail about the misery of cancer, that it was just like being beaten down into submission. With Milly’s journey, though, there is a sort of balance. We get to see what sometimes was found in The Big C, in the form of strong family ties, and the hope for stronger, and more caring, relationships, yet we also get a taste of what Wit had in the form of showing how brutal cancer can be on a person’s life. Especially as they learn they can’t do what they are accustomed to.
Though not a huge chance to shine, like Jacob Tremblay in Room, I do feel Milly’s children Scarlett (Honor Kneafsey) and Ben (Ryan Lennon Baker) do present, as noted with Milly, an angle to cancer not often seen. For, most of the time, children in movies like these are grown or in their late teenage years. So seeing how a child reacts to their mom getting cancer, from an introduction through cartoons to seeing mom vomit and collapse, was really something.
I honestly found the men in this movie to be so two dimensional. Neither Jess or Milly’s husband ever really presented a reason for you to want to know their name, backstory, or their dreams and aspirations. They pretty much were just the sperm donors who Jess and Milly happened to like having around.
On The Fence
I don’t mean to make it seem Jess is just a waste of screen time. However, there is something about Barrymore, even during times when Jess is having issues with pregnancy, or childbirth, where it seems she is outmatched. Collette brings a higher standard that Barrymore can’t match, and being that her boyfriend Jago (Paddy Considine) doesn’t help bring more interest to her story, sometimes it felt like Jess should have been greatly demoted and Milly explored more.
Final Thought(s): TV Viewing
With this film, I found myself, at best, witnessing two stories which were compelling enough to be their own individual movie yet they were mashed together into one film. At worse, however, what we have here is one actress who has the charisma to bring you into a character and present all their angles and keep you interested, and another who does enough to be considered a decent actress, but not enough to make it seems like she belongs when someone takes the craft seriously. Hence the TV Viewing label. To me, either Jess should have been demoted to a smaller role, or a different actress cast. For, in my opinion, Barrymore just doesn’t have the same oomph Collette has and the more they share the screen, or have their stories featured one after the other, the more this becomes a glaring issue in terms of differing quality.