Drew and Toni are BFFS in this touching document of friendship

The lone new release this past super bowl weekend, Miss Bala (an American remake of an acclaimed Mexican film), tanked despite the presence of the emerging star Gina Rodriguez as the film’s lead. The crime thriller’s disappointing take represents an even bigger blow for some when they learn that Miss Bala’s director is none other than Catherine Hardwicke.

Hardwicke can rightfully claim one of the most diverse film resumes in the realm of female directors, having brought everything from indie dramas (Thirteen), hit blockbusters (Twilight) and classic retellings (The Nativity Story) to the screen. As eager and curious a filmmaker as any of her contemporaries, the release of a Catherine Hardwicke film remains one of special anticipation among certain lovers of film. Yet for all her versatility as a filmmaker, only one of her efforts, the 2015 dramedy Miss You Already, encapsulates all of her cinematic talents.

In Miss You Already, Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette play Jess and Milly, respectively; best friends from childhood who continue to be each other’s number one confidant as they juggle their adult lives, which includes careers, family and marriages to Milly’s husband Kit (Dominic Cooper) and Jess’s husband Jago (Paddy Considine). When Milly suddenly discovers she’s been diagnosed with cancer however, it forces both her and Jess to re-examine and rediscover the bond they’ve shared for years.

The great thing about Miss You Already is how it continuously strives to be an authentic document about friendship. Not once does the film settle for presenting merely the illusion of a friendship, but rather the various elements which comprise it, specifically the unique shorthand, rhythm and overall language that can only be understood between two people who have spent years absorbing one another’s essences. Whether or not it was intentional, the relationship at the center of Miss You Already shows the universality of true friendship, regardless of sex. The bond shared between Milly and Jess allows them to be a version of themselves they can only be around each other, with one perhaps wishing they could be more like the other and vice versa. Meanwhile the deceptions shown by both friends towards one another touches on that specific form of betrayal that can only come from someone labeled a best friend and carries with it an inexplicable pain that’s totally alien. In showing the commonalities that exist within true friendships, regardless of sex, Miss You Already not only avoids being a straight on “chick flick,” but rather a film about the intricacies of human relationships and the powers they hold.

One of Miss You Already’s strengths is how it manages to explore issues which legions of women must face and then shows how they can’t help but have an effect on the friendships they share. More specifically, the movie shows the unstoppable force of a true friendship and how it can do wonder towards overcoming obstacles. Milly’s journey through cancer is fraught with plenty of moments which shake her to the core, but is made bearable thanks to Jess’s presence. A scene in which Jess watches and laughs as Milly is trying on one bad wig after another is hilariously touching as is the moment during chemotherapy when the latter introduces the former to the nurse as: “my elderly caregiver.” When Jess isn’t being Milly’s supportive rock, she spends her time struggling with fertility issues. Yet when she miraculously becomes pregnant, she decides to keep it a secret from Milly out of fear it’ll take attention away from her friend at this momentous juncture in her life. The ensuing mental struggle Jess experiences at the guilt of keeping a secret from one of the most important people in her life is compounded by the sadness at not being able to enjoy her pregnancy with her best friend the way she hoped she always would because of the possibility that, as Milly eventually puts it: “it’s just one more thing I might not be here for.”

Watching the movie’s two lead actresses together is part of what makes Miss You Already work as well as it does, particularly in the way their unique brands of acting are switched at certain points. Collette, typically the more emotive of the two, gets a chance to play lighthearted with a touch of whimsy while Barrymore’s trademark effervescence is mixed with a soulful sincerity that shows the actress giving one of her most accomplished screen turns. The two ladies have chemistry to spare and watching them bring the movie’s friendship to life cannot help but be felt by everyone watching. Both actresses’ characters are paired with two well-written male counterparts who exist as more than functions are superbly played by Considine and Cooper, with the latter doing some surprisingly moving work. The cast is rounded out with a fun, cooky turn by Jacqueline Bisset as Milly’s TV actress mother whose subplot would make a worthwhile film in its own right.

Not even the vast amount of audience goodwill attached to Barrymore’s name over the years could help make Miss You Already the indie hit many felt it should have been as the film failed to make much an impact with audiences upon its initial limited release. Critics however found enough about the film to praise, including the performances of the two leads, the well-written script and Hardwicke’s direction, resulting in a slight critical hit of sorts for all involved.

Miss You Already may be the most uncharacteristic film in Hardwicke’s filmography, containing neither the polish of her big budget efforts, nor the starkness of her probing indies. And yet there’s a sense that no other film bears her stamp better. By the movie’s end, audiences will have been able to spot the director’s penchant for emotional openness and embraceable accessibility. As a filmmaker, Hardwicke feels right at home bringing tales of the fantastic and the raw to their respective audiences, whether they be the in the worlds of skaters or teenage vampires. Miss You Already exists smack dab in the middle of the two sides which make up Hardwicke’s storytelling sensibilities as a film which carries with it an undeniable honesty in regards to the themes it explores the levels of humanity that define them.

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