Critics often complain that Hollywood doesn't offer many good roles for women. The producers behind I Miss You Already and I Smile Back, two new dramas opening on Friday, would beg to differ. While the subject matter of each movie differs, both center on women and feature terrific performances by Toni Collette and Sarah Silverman, their respective stars. I Miss You Already opens areawide while I Smile Back opens exclusively at the Cedar Lee.
Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) helms I Miss You Already, a sometimes difficult-to-watch drama about how a fight with cancer complicates the friendship between Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore). Friends since grade school, the two have a relationship that borders on co-dependency as the outgoing Milly relies upon Jess to bail her out when she drinks too much or pisses off the wrong person. She's in constant need of attention and the much shyer Jess regularly provides a fix.
But when Milly gets diagnosed with breast cancer, her happy-go-lucky attitude takes a hit. And as a publicist who's already self-conscious about her looks, she begins to doubt her ability to exist in a world where she has to regularly dress up and strut her stuff. A hippie chick at heart, Jess lives on a tiny houseboat with her working-class husband. While she doesn't always identify with Milly, when it becomes clear that Milly might have to have a mastectomy, she becomes much more sympathetic. And Milly takes advantage.
The film provides a frank look at how cancer can complicate even the strongest friendships. In a refreshing twist, the husbands take to the sidelines; the plot focuses primarily on the two women. While it often tries too hard to tug at the heartstrings (it's a real tearjerker), Collette's solid performance keeps the movie from Lifetime Channel territory.
On the other hand, ain't nothing sentimental about I Smile Back. Comedian Sarah Silverman plays Laney, an upper-middle-class housewife with two kids and a husband. She struggles with depression and substitutes a combination of pills and alcohol for the lithium she's prescribed to take. She's also screwing her husband's jerkoff best friend Donny (Thomas Sadoski), a guy who shares her love of coke and booze and lies to Laney about how much he can't stand his wife.
When things come to a head and Laney has a complete meltdown, she checks into a rehab clinic. "Do you want me to talk about my daddy issues or my drug issues first?" she sarcastically asks the doctor once she gets past her withdrawal.
Based on Amy Koppelman's 2008 novel of the same name, the film doesn't have much of a story to it. The slow-moving plot makes it come off more as a character study than a narrative. But Silverman is a revelation. Known for her sarcastic wit, she dials things back and bares it all (literally and figuratively) in a solid performance.
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