Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen) directs Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore in an illness-of-the-week movie that rises above the formula thanks to great work by the two stars and the men playing their husbands. Milly (Collette) and Jess (Barrymore) are lifelong friends, having shared many experiences together. Milly marries a rocker husband (Dominic Cooper), and Jess couples up with a blue-collar worker (Paddy Considine), both looking to start families. Milly has two kids, while Jess tries hard to have a baby. She finally gets pregnant, but it’s at the same time that Milly is diagnosed with breast cancer. Hardwicke and friends do a good job showing the hardships Milly faces, including chemotherapy and emotional difficulties. The proceedings feel “real” and not cloying, thanks in large part to a screenplay that isn’t afraid to show human frailties and flaws. Collette gets the showier role here, and she further displays why she is one of the more underrated actresses out there. Barrymore gives what may be her best performance yet as the best friend who won’t take shit from her pal, even if she does have cancer. Cooper and Considine deliver with dark humor and male characters that are refreshingly honest and goofy. I’d say it’s a Beaches for the new millennium, but that would be an insult. This movie is actually good.

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