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Friday 2 December 2016

Movie reviews: Miss You Already, Life and Older Than Ireland

Miss You Already
Miss You Already
Life
Older Than Ireland

Miss You Already is a great tearjerker, a James Dean biopic and the utterly charming Older Than Ireland

Miss You Already

Drama/Comedy. Starring Toni Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter, Noah Huntley, Jacqueline Bissett. Director:  Catherine Hardwicke CERT: 15A

A respectful moment of silence, please, for Toni Collette's dazzling acting range. Whether she is playing an Irish alcoholic mother (Glassland) or a frumpy  Chicago lawyer (In Her Shoes), her spirited performances always seem to land squarely on target. Like Meryl Streep, she is worth watching in any role, simply because it's Toni Collette. Whether it's snot-strewn tears, melodrama or a steely gaze, Toni's yer only man.

Here, she plays former wild child Milly with a very best friend Jess (Drew Barrymore), devoted husband Kit (Dominic Cooper), two lively kids and a sexy job in music PR. We're led to believe that Milly and Jess are soulmates in complete step with each other. They've done everything together, from reading Wuthering Heights to first boyfriends. Milly was always a step ahead, finding a husband and settling down first. And now, after finding out she has terminal cancer, it looks as though she will be forging ahead in another way, too.

Milly does what most cancer patients do: she diligently shows up to appointments, grimly accepts the loss of her breasts and tries to weather the loss of her hair and the wretched feeling of sickness with steely pragmatism. Yet despite doing everything right and playing by the rules of life's most dastardly slave driver, Milly is eventually told to expect the worst.

As it happens, Jess - who has been as faithful and supportive a companion as any cancer patient would wish for - is finally getting everything she wants in her life, including a much-wanted baby with her partner Jago (Paddy Considine).

Where Toni Collette often displays an abundance of interiority in her acting, Drew Barrymore, in this film at least, displays very little. A shame, really, because Barrymore is so lovable and charismatic in most other projects. Save for a rather, er, energetic scene in the beginning of the film, Barrymore is cool and calm throughout, and not strictly in a good way. Perhaps Jess is meant to be the 'gathered' one in the friendship, but next to the might of Collette's rousing acting, Barrymore's performance can seem a bit dialled in.

It's a curious casting choice, given that the film is so earthy and British in almost every other respect. Miss You Already bears a couple of Richard Curtis-inspired, Brit-flick hallmarks; all quirky houseboats and trendy mews houses. So to hear words like 'arsebucket' and 'bloody' in Barrymore's American diction (Jess arrived at school in Britain aged 10 and the experience didn't soften her accent one bit) is a bit jarring. There is one scene in which Jess lets her guard down; while dancing on the Yorkshire moors in the headlights of a taxi. It's a scene that catches in the chest. How perfect the film could have been if every scene had this tenderness.

Anyway, Miss You Already is a love story in the main; a tribute to the resilience of female friendship, even if it changes form over time. Neither the script nor the camera shirks away from the grislier, more difficult parts of Milly's journey.

We are there every step of the horrid way, from the doctor's room to the calm of the hospice bed. It makes for a harrowing experience, and there were certainly no shortage of tears and sniffles in the press preview screening I went to.

This year there has been no dearth of films about friendship or, for that matter, terminal illness; both seem particularly modish to Hollywood right now. But Miss You Already is a considered and authentic look at both that most other films rarely master. It's Beaches for a Facebook generation, and one that will be watched with Kleenex, best friends and ice-cream for years to come.

Ratiing ****

 

Life

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Biography/Drama. Starring Robert Pattinson, Peter Lucas, Lauren Gallagher, Kendal Rae, Drew Leger, Dane DeHaan, Alessandra Mastronardi. Director: Anton Corbijn. CERT: 15A

For actors, biopics can be tricky, challenging, but ultimately gratifying terrain. But how to straddle the line between capturing someone's essence and making one's own mark with the role, all while keeping out of impersonation territory?

Well, you could ask Dane DeHaan. Here, the newcomer plays one of the most iconic, if mysterious, film idols of all time: James Dean. It wouldn't be a role for the faint-hearted, certainly, and even though DeHaan is lacking Dean's iconic bone structure, he manages to breathe humanity into a star who was tragically cut down before he had a chance to really shine.

In Life, Robert Pattinson plays Dennis Stock, the freelance Magnum photographer who is one of the first to notice the glint in Dean's eye, and by extension, the potential for true greatness.

Dean is unprepared for fame, although he allows Stock to travel home with him to Indiana to shoot a photo essay for Life magazine. The resulting images became truly epochal, not least because of Dean's death at 24.

Life isn't so much a biopic as it is the origin story of Stock's immediately recognisable images: Dean smoking as he skulks down Times Square, Dean in the barbershop's chair. With his sandy quiff and quizzical brows, DeHaan is immediately recognisable as the star.

At times, DeHaan looks like a young Brad Pitt; others, he manages to put flesh on a character that has remained elusive through the ages, all while nailing Dean's own shyness and reticence.

It's no coincidence that Corbijn - once a freelance rock photographer - has managed to make this an authentic, knowing film. Perhaps because of his past life as a photographer, Life blazes with the vivid hues of Hollywood, all flamingo pink and azure.

Corbijn has an eye for delicious period detail, and - as we also saw in his Joy Division biopic Control - a canny knack for eliciting an impressive performance from his actors.

There is a trick missed, though: the relationship between Stock and Dean is lacking in texture, and the stakes are never quite high enough for either character, despite it being a make or break moment for both men's careers. Still, Life has enough heady glamour to make it worth a watch for cinephiles.

Rating: ***

 

Older Than Ireland

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Documentary. Starring Bessie Nolan, Kathleen Snavely, Luke Dolan, Michael O'Connor, Jackie Sullivan. Director: Alex Fegan. CERT: PG

Meanwhile, one of the most exquisite films of the year also lands this week; Older Than Ireland sees director Alex Fegan interview 30 Irish men and women who are, much as the title suggests, over 100 years old.

Using a light directorial touch, Fegan's film is reminiscent in style of The Irish Pub or His & Hers, but his subjects make Older Than Ireland an entirely riveting watch.

These men and women boast a wealth of history at their fingertips; they can remember a life of gentle, pre-Tinder romance, and housework before washing machines. They have also experienced death and loss, making for some true tear-jerking moments.

Older Than Ireland is positively brimful of charm, tenderness and very funny one-liners.

Rating: *****

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