It is a great tragedy of our culture that men are not encouraged to have the same sort of intensely emotional and hugely supportive relationships among themselves that women have with other women. Men are forced to find their emotional support, sometimes their only such support, from wives or girlfriends, while their wives and girlfriends have entire networks of friends — who slot into a sometimes massive and ever-shifting hierarchy that starts with Occasional Drinking Buddy to BFF — to whom we turn for advice, encouragement, mutual bitching sessions, pats on the back, and so much more.
So what do men see when they look at a movie such as Miss You Already? Does it look phony? Does it seem overly sentimental and unrealistic? Are they jealous that they have been denied, by the pressures our culture places on them, such passionate and intimate friendships? Does it make them uncomfortable to get a peek inside the part of women’s lives that don’t include men, and to see how rich and satisfying and complicated it can be?
Cuz this is the real thing right here: Miss You is authentically female in how it gets inside a lifelong friendship between two women, and how important that friendship is to them and how unshakeable it is even at the worst of times. While the film is powerfully emotional — at the screening I attended, there were packs of Kleenex on the seats, and they were most definitely needed — it is not “sentimental” in the derogatory sense that word usually implies. This is the sort of movie we can get only when women are writing and directing movies; the script here is by Morwenna Banks, and Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, Lords of Dogtown) directed. That’s not because all women’s friendships are exactly alike, or because all women are exactly alike. It’s because of that artificial cultural divide. There are some insights into women’s lives that, at this moment in time, only women can have.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend as radically different from me as the earthy, almost hippie-ish Jess (Drew Barrymore: Blended, Big Miracle) has in wacky rock-chick Milly (Toni Collette: The Boxtrolls, Hector and the Search for Happiness). But I think almost all women would recognize the cornerstone of their relationship: your best friend is family. There is no question about this. A woman’s best friend might even be more family that her actual family. (“Best Friend Forever” is not a joke or an exaggeration. We mean this.) That’s not to say that that friendship won’t go through ups and downs, as Jess and Milly’s does here, but the relationship itself is not in question, as Jess and Milly’s never is here. Miss You is about coping when bad stuff happens… but also when good stuff happens at the same time! The central conflict of the movie is Milly versus breast cancer, but this is complicated by the fact that Jess, who has been trying to have a baby for a long while, is torn about sharing the good news when she finally does find herself pregnant with the person she is closest to after her husband, or maybe even before him. (Paddy Considine [Child 44, Pride] and Dominic Cooper [Dracula Untold, Need for Speed] as, respectively, Jess and Milly’s husbands are wonderful in supporting roles that give them more scope and more of a journey than women in supportive-wife roles usually get.) The fortunes of best friends don’t always rise and fall at the same time, and this can be very stressful when you care as deeply about someone else as Jess does Milly.
So this isn’t a Cancer Movie, though there is plenty that is cancer-related. (The scene in which Milly gets her head shaved in advance of losing it to chemo is a masterful example of unsentimentality. It is, like much of the movie, as wisely funny as it is sharply poignant.) Miss You is a friendship movie of the likes we hardly ever see; it will be compared to Beaches, which isn’t quite fair — that was about the two best friends entire lives, as this one is not — but even if it were fair, the need to reach back almost 30 years to find a similar movie is a condemnation of the movie industry, not a condemnation of Miss You Already. (Imagine if it were 30 years between lone-wolf action flicks or superhero movies. Or between man-versus-nature movies like Everest or The Martian. There isn’t even two weeks between those!) Barrymore and Collette could not be more perfect or more plausibly devoted to each other — theirs is the sort of onscreen chemistry that even films supposedly about passionate romance rarely achieve. They both seem to breathe with invigorated purpose in roles that allow them to be angry and afraid, that do not require them to be noble or saintly. That are, in other words, fully human.
There is one unrealistic thing in this movie: the fact that it’s set in London and Barrymore’s character is supposed to have been living there since she was a small child yet still retains her American accent. That’s it. The rest of it? Spot on when it comes to women’s lives. Oh, and it’s pretty unrealistic that a movie that gets women should be such an anomaly.