Miss You Already is the new film directed by Catherine Hardwicke (of Twilight and Lords of Dogtown fame) about two best friends in London whose lives are forever altered when one of them is diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s a lovely, heart-warming film that celebrates female friendship and reflects, more accurately than most Hollywood films, on the journey of cancer and the impact it has on friends and family.
Although they are best friends, Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) are vastly different people. Jess is demure, wholesome. She works as an environmentalist and lives on a houseboat with her bearded husband. At home, she wears flowing kimonos and talks about how she is so natural she won’t even take aspirin. She and Jago (Paddy Considine) have been trying to have a baby for some time now. When he asks her where the baby will sleep, she jokes that the baby will sleep in a drawer. In one of the opening scenes, he is cooking eggs for her while she stares are her fertility monitor, trying to work out the state of her cervical mucus. “Your eggs are ready.” he says. On cue, she sighs and shrugs, “Not according to this.” They want a baby so badly that Jago will go out to sea and work on a dangerous oil rig (read: conflict with Milly’s environmentalist ideals) in order to pay for IVF.
Milly is an equally stereotyped character. She is the wild one: later on, the two friends fondly recall the time Milly vomited into a gutter and punched a policeman in the face (good times, good times). Milly is now older and more mature. She married the rockstar she used to tour with, Kit (Dominic Cooper), and is a loving mother to their two lovely children.
There are two standout elements in the film that see it rise above its often clichéd characterisation. The first is Toni Collette’s performance as Milly. She plays a character whose way of dealing with her cancer diagnosis is far less than admirable – she is at times self-absorbed, vain and dishonest. And yet, the entire time, we feel for her, not because she has cancer, but because Collette manages to make her vulnerable and fragile even in those moments when she’s proverbially slapping those who love and care for her in the face. She’s funny, she’s beautiful and she’s strong.
The other impressive aspect of Miss You Already is in the complex way it dealt with cancer, a shift away from typical Hollywood dramas on the subject. In particular, its tasteful exploration of Milly’s sexuality after her diagnosis, and later, after her double mastectomy, sets it apart. It’s an aspect of the cancer journey that is tragic without being glamorous and it challenges the widespread notion that cancer patients, with their hair falling out and their weight dropping off them, must become asexual. Kit’s adoration of Milly is on full display throughout the film, Hardwicke and screenwriter Morwenna Banks frankly depicting their sex life.
When Milly gets sick, their relationship undergoes an understandable strain. She becomes cranky and starts to resent him, she feels nauseous and fatigued and she starts to wear a wig. Before undergoing her double mastectomy, Milly runs off and gets drunk in a bar. Jess finds her surrounded by young men, flashing her breasts and the bartender. “I always wanted to be wanted,” Milly says, stumbling along the footpath, “I always knew that if I turned around someone would be looking at my ass. I’m so vain, superficial. I have a huge ego. I’m going to look like a mutant. Who’s going to give a shit about me then?” It’s a sentiment that we can all relate to – the desire to feel wanted, the notion of sexuality forming a core part of your identity, a part of your identity often sidelined during illness.
Whilst I recommend Miss You Already, it should be noted that often the film veers off into ridiculous territory – a series of scenes that take place in the English moors, a perplexing dance with a taxi driver in the dark, the bartender’s relationship with his dog. Aside from this, though, Collette’s performance and the portrait of Milly’s sexuality post-cancer diagnosis is both tender and moving, and ultimately what sees Miss You Already succeed.