MISS YOU ALREADY. UK, 2015. Starring Tony Collette, Drew Barrymore, Dominic Cooper, Paddy Considine, Tyson Ritter, Jacqueline Bisset. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. 112 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes, sex scenes and coarse language).
At a recent conference, a speaker was very strong in her declaration that men did not really understand how women tick. It was an impassioned intervention. This came to mind while watching Miss You Already. It is very much a women’s film, writer, director, performances – a film that men should see to help them understand women.
That might not be such an easy thing to arrange when potential audiences hear that the film is about breast cancer, mastectomy, chemotherapy, illness and death. But it is also about strong friendship, love, family, fidelity and infidelity, hope.
This story of the friendship of two women, one who experiences illness and terminal cancer, the other who desperately wants a child and becomes pregnant, is enhanced by the strength of the writing, the sensitivity of the direction, and two very fine performances.
The opening traces the beginnings of the friendship between Jess and Milly, inner London setting, where the American Jess comes as a child and has to settle in, befriended by Milly, growing up with her, schooldays, some rather wild days, especially in their 20s, and settling down to family in their 30s.
Toni Collette, one of Australia’s most versatile actresses, gives a complex performance as Milly. she is an extroverted girl about town, falling for a roadie for a rock group, Kit (Dominic Cooper) and, surprising to herself and to others, settles down to married life and raising a family while keeping and promotions job. Drew Barrymore is Jess, happily married to Jago (Paddy Considine) trying all kinds of means to become pregnant but finally having to go for in vitro. She is a happy woman herself, generally content to play second fiddle to Milly, but always there as a confidant, always there to rescue if need be. Jacqueline Bissett plays Milly’s and believes flamboyant actress mother.
There have been a number of films about cancer, especially for teenagers experiencing it, The Fault in our Stars and Me and Girl and the Dying Girl. But this is a story of a woman turning 40, trying to deal with this experience in her life, undergoing chemotherapy (presented quite graphically for what is a movie entertainment), the issue of mastectomy and its consequences for herself, for herself-image, for her relationship with her husband and much of his bewilderment and unwillingness to cope with the situation. While there is some relief, it is only temporary and she has to face the realities of a short life.
The film is not all sweetness and light. Milly is not that kind of person. She takes up with an American barman, even going to Yorkshire and Bronte country (she and Jess are devoted to Wuthering Heights and Heathcliff), but it is Jess who has to confront her.
This is a story which most women will basically identify with, the reality of breast cancer or other cancers, ways of dealing with illness and coping with the effect on children and husband. This is a story which, in a comparatively brief running time, a men’s audience can allow itself to be challenged to empathy and understanding.
This reviewer found the film very moving, shared the joy in the women’s lives, was saddened by the reality of illness and the consequences, disappointed in Milly’s moments of give-up, but impressed by the sequences of what might be called in religious terms, confession and reconciliation.
Released October 8th 2015.
Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.