Cancer comedy with heart

Drew Barrymore (left) and Toni Collette in cancer comedy Miss You Already.
Drew Barrymore (left) and Toni Collette in cancer comedy Miss You Already.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux in Bond film Spectre.
Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux in Bond film Spectre.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES
Jeremy Irvine (in white) in Stonewall, which tells the story behind the gay rights riots.
Jeremy Irvine (in white) in Stonewall, which tells the story behind the gay rights riots.PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Two friends deal with the highs and lows of cancer without the self-pity in Miss You Already

Cancer comedy or banal Bond? The choices this week look far from promising, but Miss You Already (NC16, 113 minutes, opens tomorrow, ****) offers something the new 007 will not: Characters you might actually miss if they died.

Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) are friends whose ties are strained when Milly is told of a tumour growing in her breast. Jess needs to lend support to her best friend even as she and her husband Jago (Paddy Considine) cope with challenges of their own.

Adapted from a BBC radio play, this is the opposite of loose-limbed illness diaries such as 50/50 (2011). Here, the story gallops, never dwelling on any emotional beat. Incidents pop up between Milly and her husband Kit (Dominic Cooper); the women seek out experiences, singly and together.

If anything, director Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, 2008; Red Riding Hood, 2011) is a little too aware of slumping into the maudlin. She packs in camera moves that glide and eye-candy locations. Jess and her hubby live on a houseboat; the streets of London sparkle.

That desire for tonal edginess bleeds most into the character of Milly, a woman who never outgrows her party-girl stage, thinks twice about manipulating her best pal or feels she should share the limelight.

Her highs are high indeed, to make her lows very low. With a lesser actress than Collette, Milly would be intolerable. But Hardwicke and Collette dare you to like Milly. They win that particular bet.

The Bond who fell off a train in Skyfall (2012) died and was reborn in proper superhero fashion. It's too bad the resurrected man is less Spider-Man and more human tank, a thing so bent on destruction he feels barely alive.

More accurately, Spectre (PG13, 148 minutes, opens tomorrow,***) looks as if director Sam Mendes, after the box-office success of Skyfall, got his hands on the action-movie budget he wanted. It has allowed him to get rid of lower-cost atmospheric elements, the same ones that made Skyfall so interesting - glamour shots inside the Macau casino, Silva's (Javier Bardem) dystopian island lair - and squeeze in one big, loud setpiece after another.

Following the events in Skyfall, Bond (Daniel Craig) goes rogue, driven by M's (Judi Dench) message from beyond the grave. To find the person responsible for her murder, Bond must infiltrate Spectre, the ne plus ultra of terror organisations.

The new M (Ralph Fiennes) tries to rein in the rampaging operative, but is kept busy crossing swords with C (Andrew Scott), the new boss seeking to replace agents with surveillance on a global scale.

With the character-driven bits that gave Skyfall its soul stripped away, the franchise's tics resurface, like a psychopath who refuses to stay dead. Bond, for example, is captured by supervillain Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and treated to the traditional tour-of-lair-with-torture package, with an inevitable escape assisted by a gadget from Q (Ben Whishaw). Director Mendes can do only so much to make that sequence, parodied so often in film and television, feel fresh.

One element absent from this is the interplay between Bond and the old M. It helped humanise him and its loss is a case of missing something only after it's gone. Without the old M's needling, Bond never shows the side of himself capable of petulance. It was not much, but it was at least something.

The nuts and bolts that form the structure of Stonewall (R21, 130 minutes, opens tomorrow,**) are just as obvious, but hurt the picture much more. This well-intentioned misfire wants to plant us in the world of Christopher Street in New York, a hub of gay activity in the late 1960s. The movie mixes fact and fiction to tell the story behind the Stonewall riots, seen by many as marking the start of the gay rights movement in the United States.

The problem lies not with the how of the story; it lies with the who. We see the street and the world of the transvestites and transgendered through the eyes of Danny (Jeremy Irvine). He is a kid from the Midwest struggling with his sexual orientation.

It would be hard to find a duller and more patronising point-of-view character than him. He has the nous of a squirrel. Wiser characters explain issues to him as they would to a toddler.

Naive narrators are common storytelling devices, but director Roland Emmerich (White House Down, 2013) and writer Jon Robin Baitz rise to new levels of blandness with Danny in trying to sell their crusading picture to a mainstream audience.

Political critics of the movie accuse it of minimising the contributions of non-whites by making the fictional white character a hero. But in Hollywood, Dannys allow stories to be told and sold. No Danny, no financing, no movie.

Since Dannys will always be with us, taking centre stage in stories that don't belong to them, the least we can ask for from directors such as Emmerich is to make him less boring.

Besties on screen and off

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Cancer comedy with heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe