Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore in 'Miss You Already'
Image: Lionsgate

Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore in 'Miss You Already'

Let's first celebrate how many movies released this year pass the “Bechdel Test” (in which at least two women talk to each other about something other than a man). As a woman and a movie fan, I'm especially pleased by that. But watching Miss You Already, I couldn’t help but wonder why a movie that takes female friendship seriously has to revolve around childbirth and death.

Miss You Already is not easy to watch. I won’t watch it again any time soon. That’s why I kind of resent the fact that Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) have one of the most realistic and nuanced friendships I’ve ever seen on the big screen.

Jess and Milly, friends since childhood, are now in midlife. Their relationship has already survived the full range of life changes, including jobs, marriage, children, and an obvious wealth gap. This seems rare both cinematically and in real life.

Director Catherine Hardwicke, who is known for making movies about women (yes, even Twilight sort of counts), is unsparingly honest when it comes to depicting human behavior in relationships. There is a reason it’s rare for two people to stay close for twenty years or more, regardless of the type of relationship, and that’s because it’s hard. Sometimes one person works harder at it than the other; sometimes other relationships and life circumstances conflict. MissYou Already deals with all of this while teetering on the line between emotional manipulation and emotional honesty. The movie just barely succeeds at not falling over that line, but it does succeed.

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette in 'Miss You Already'
Image: Lionsgate

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette in 'Miss You Already'

The movie opens with Jess in labor, alone with a nurse in a hospital room, moaning for Milly. Who? Cue flashbacks to Milly, her best friend since moving to Great Britain in grade school. Jess and Milly experienced “everything” together (see: the usual beats in a coming-of-age story, including first kiss and first sexual experience). Milly was the “wild child” and “the hot one” who unexpectedly grew up into a successful (if sometimes “inappropriate”) wife and mother. Jess, whose family is mostly absent in the film, grew up into a dowdy, environmentally-friendly hippie who lives on a houseboat with a sweet but financially insecure man.

The two women remain friends through all of this. But as the movie transitions into the year before Jess wound up pregnant and alone in a London hospital, something has obviously pushed these two women in separate directions.

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Milly gets cancer. This movie’s depiction of cancer is intense and not seen through cinematically rosy glasses; there are close-ups of needles, vomit, bruised veins, and patchy scalp. But it is also depicted through humor, sometimes the bleak kind that comes from a hopeless situation and often the ironic kind that can only come from a good friend you know cares deeply enough to make light.

Compared to what Milly is going through, Jess’s problems with IVF and getting pregnant seem to pale—and Jess knows it. Jess is the first person Milly tells that she has cancer. Jess is at Milly’s side for her first round of chemotherapy. When Milly struggles to keep up her home life, Jess moves in. And when Milly eventually undergoes a mastectomy, Jess is the only person she shows her still-bleeding scars.

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette in 'Miss You Already'
Image: Lionsgate

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette in 'Miss You Already'

This intimate focus on the relationship between two women sidelines their romantic relationships with men in a way that is unusual for even movies with a female protagonist. Both Milly and Jess have loyal and supportive men in their lives. These men—Dominic Cooper as Milly’s husband Kit and Paddy Considine as Jess’s Jago—get brief moments to bond, to grieve, to fail, and in Jago’s case, to protest that Jess prioritizes the needs (or “bonkers whims”) of her friend ahead of his or even her own.

Jago has a point, but the movie allows Jess to reach his conclusion gradually and after Milly’s behavior deteriorates until a confrontation set on the moors of West Yorkshire. This scene (which follows one in which the two women literally dance on the moors while living out their shared Wuthering Heights fantasy) teeters on the edge of melodrama—there is a tearful argument, a “big reveal,” and even a traumatic fall).

However, the movie does such a good job treating both women with compassion that while I was rooting for Jess to finally yell at Milly, I also understood the fear driving Milly to the point where she needed it. “You’re so selfish. You’re a cancer bully,” Jess charges Milly: words that would be forbidden in a less brave movie.

Although ultimately the cancer plot drives the movie—which had me crying by the end—Miss You Already proposes that best friends can and should keep each other honest. Milly might not have confronted her own problems if Jess had continued to indulge her. And Jess needed to admit to her own needs.

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Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette in 'Miss You Already'
Image: Lionsgate

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette in 'Miss You Already'

Small quibble, perhaps, but while the movie does excellent work decanonizing Milly as the cancer victim, Jess remains the steady, sacrificial, martyr of a friend throughout, making the relationship and the story a little one-sided. Even at the end, Jess is still the go-to for everyone in both her life and Milly’s. Her big moment is the birth of her first child—a major life moment, certainly, but a conventional scene in which she yells at the father (who, amusingly, watches on live video surrounded by other men) and grits her teeth for that one last heroic push.

Miss You Already doesn’t hide the fact that one of its protagonists dies in the end. Instead, the drama comes from excellent acting and great dialogue. The movie is so life-like in its storytelling that it makes it more painful to watch.

So I love that a movie like this exists. But I still wish for more movies about female friendship that I can actually enjoy.

Caveat Spectator

This movie depicts the body horror that goes along with disease, including vomit, needles, bloody drainage and post-op scars. There is enough language and frank sensuality (including extramarital sex in a closet filled with kegs) to edge the movie very close to an R-rating.

Alicia Cohn is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Her.meneutics and freelance writer based in Denver. She tweets @aliciacohn.

Miss You Already
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (For thematic content, sexual material and some language.)
Directed By
Catherine Hardwicke
Run Time
1 hour 52 minutes
Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette, Dominic Cooper
Theatre Release
September 25, 2015 by Lionsgate
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