You could bill it as a chick-flick, a cancer movie and a weepie but Miss You Already **** confounds genre expectations even as it ticks the boxes and racks up the tissues.
I blubbed twice, and it would have been more had not director Catherine Hardwicke placed so perfectly her alleviating doses of laughter.
Starring Toni Collette as Milly and Drew Barrymore as Jess, this London-set film gets right into the snot, tears and pain of cancer, while dolling itself up as an examination of female friendship.
Toni is the PR exec with the former rock star husband (Dominic Cooper – should I complain about the age gap here? No, because to do so would be tedious…) and cool mews house; Drew is her life-long best friend since emigrating from America when little. Their almost-symbiotic relationship is sketched out quickly in one of those peppy little montages and voice-overs they tell you never to use in film school. Needless to say, it works a treat.
When the news of the cancer hits Milly, we’re prepared for the havoc it will wreak – we’re invested in the relationships, the families. Due to Morwenna Banks’ no-nonsense script, we care.
The smart thing is that Milly isn’t always likeable. Her refusal to play the victim results in spiky behaviour, selfish actions. “You’re a cancer bully,” finally bites back Jess, who is trying to get pregnant by the punishing trial of IVF.
But a certain magnificence emerges too, particularly in the head-shaving scene, when Frances de la Tour gives Mily a wig-fit to remember. “It’s often those watching who find it the hardest,” says de la Tour’s character, and we nod in agreement.
The film gets tougher to watch when – and I think this is a first in cinema – we see the ravages of a double mastectomy on Milly’s chest. But just when it’s all getting too medical and preachy, the film takes a clever turn into other new territory, Milly embarking on self-destructive casual sex with a hunky barman. She becomes loathsome, silly and selfish, an insufferable sufferer.
There’s a gloss to this film that aids it enormously, the London landmarks and curious locations – a houseboat opposite Battersea Power Station, glassy office blocks, Loungelover cocktail bar, and Milly and Jess are the only people I’ve ever seen get that great table over the canal at Cafe Laville at the top of Blomfield Road in Little Venice.
I liked both the actresses and the casting of Dominic Cooper as the hapless husband who doesn’t know how to deal with his dying wife (who does?) and Paddy Considine, as Jess’ husband, also having to deal with being sidelined for the ailing best friend.
There’s a great turn, too, from Jacqueline Bisset as Milly’s actress Mum, also struggling with how to remain upbeat when faced with the grim reality.
Having directed Twilight, Catherine Hardwicke might have a reputation for soppy teen romance, but the truth is far deeper. Her film Thirteen and its unlikely follow up, the skateboard movie Lords of Dogtown, had documentary roots and it’s clear this director is focused on translating real pain and real truth into digestible fiction. Here’s a film maker – yes, a female one – who goes for the emotional gut and lands all of her punches, beautifully.
To hear my interview with Catherine Hardwicke on the BBC London Robert Elms show click here.