No-men-ber Reign: Miss You Already

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One of the first notes I took while watching Miss You Already at a packed Toronto theater last Thursday night was “younger actor – Dominic Cooper.” (I’m an excellent note-taker.) I wanted to remind myself to write about how conscious I was of the fact that Toni Collette’s love interest was played by an actor who is younger than her. Cooper is 37, and Collette is 43. There would be absolutely nothing notable about this relationship in real life, but this is the movies, and this casting choice seemed deliberate—a statement.

It’s the norm for 50-year-old men to be matched with 20-something women in romantic comedies. In Miss You Already director Catherine Hardwicke flipped that convention on its head and dared anyone to raise an eyebrow.

When a journalist at Variety commented that she appreciated the fact that Collette’s love interests were played by younger men, Hardwicke responded, “Female director, baby!”

Much has been written about the discrimination facing women directors and actresses in Hollywood. We’re finally discussing the fact that women directed only 4.7 percent of studio films between 2009 and 2013. That, in 2014, women made up only 12 percent of leading roles in the top 100 grossing films. That women represented only 30.2 percent of all speaking characters in the top 700 films made between 2007 and 2014. That the overwhelming majority of all of these roles went to young, cisgender, white women. And that these women aren’t getting paid nearly as much as their male co-stars.

These are incredibly important discussions to have, and we need to keep having them until Hollywood gets the message. We also need to talk about the films women directors are making. We need to celebrate these films and their women characters, critique them and discuss what makes them unique. (For starters, researchers have found that when a woman directs a film, there’s a 10.6 percent increase in the number of women on screen. There’s also a better chance of an actress in her 40s sharing sex scenes with a younger man, apparently.)

This month—which I will hereby call No-men-ber—four films directed by women open in wide release. There’s Hardwicke’s Miss You Already, Patricia Riggen’s The 33, Jessie Nelson’s Love the Coopers and Angelina Jolie’s By the Sea. There are also a few women-directed films opening in limited release this month: Tara Subkoff’s #Horror and Amy Berg’s Janis: Little Girl Blue. All these releases, makes for a notable No-men-ber, and the slate of films worth exploring. First up? Miss You Already, which opened on November 6.

Miss You Already is about the friendship of Milly (Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore), women who have been through it all together: first kisses, the ’90s, drunken altercations with the cops, accidental pregnancy (Milly’s), marriage. Milly is the “wild one” always looking for a party, and Jess is her good-natured, sometimes-willing sidekick. Milly’s also a mom of two, wife to Kit (Cooper) and a successful publicist—the “bad girl” grown up. Jess works for a social service “doing good,” lives on a houseboat and on meticulously mapped-out fertile days, she and her husband Jago (Paddy Considine) attempt and fail to get pregnant.

They are completely different people leading wholly different lives, but as is the case with lifelong BFFs, that doesn’t matter.

When Milly finds out she has breast cancer, Jess is there to support her through it. She attends chemo sessions, holds her hair back as she vomits, picks up the slack when Kit fails to manage being a working father and husband of a sick wife, and puts her own needs aside. But then Jess finds out that she’s finally become pregnant and what has always been an easy relationship to navigate becomes complicated. Jess decides to hold off on sharing her good news with her best friend, afraid it will seem callous to be happy when Milly is losing her hair and dealing with a double mastectomy. As Milly demands more from Jess—time, love, patience—their relationship strains.

Films about friendship, where friendship itself is the focal point, are rare. Friendship in film is often the background noise, it’s secondary to the character’s quest for sex, marriage, fame or money. But our relationships with our friends are often our longest and deepest. In Miss You Already, Hardwicke and screenwriter Morwenna Banks dig into the complexity and importance of these adult friendships. They know that maintaining long-time friendships requires work; it’s emotionally exhausting. But there’s a pay-off: friends understand us in ways that our parents or even our partners never can. When Milly shops for a wig or reveals the scars from her mastectomy, Jess knows when she needs a laugh instead of a hug. Friends put up with our shit, but will call us on it, too. When Milly whips candies at the guests at her surprise birthday party and screams that she doesn’t want to be celebrated for still being alive, Jess, of course, storms out of the party with her. But then she tells Milly that, cancer or not, she’s behaved like a brat.

One of the reasons the film works so well is the chemistry between Collette and Barrymore. They make this friendship feel real—not that anyone would have to fake being best friends with Collette. Toni Collette = angel (another on-point note I jotted down at the film screening). She exudes energy and cool and elevates everyone around her. But in addition to her performance, Miss You Already works because this friendship makes sense. You get why they’d commit to one another. Milly brings excitement to Jess’s life, and Jess brings stability to Milly’s. There’s been some talk that Miss You Already is Beaches 2.0. Yes, there’s the scene-stealer and the sidekick. Yes, there’s cancer. Yes, this movie is designed to make you cry (and it definitely succeeds). But, with all due respect to the the Divine Miss M, CC Bloom and Hillary cannot compete with Milly and Jess. What did Hillary bring to that relationship? Memories of singing Christmas carols in a cold apartment cannot possibly sustain a friendship. CC was the wind beneath her own wings, not Hillary. Milly and Jess, on the other hand? They sustain one another.

Miss You Already isn’t going to win any Oscars. It probably won’t be one of the top-grossing films of the year—the ones that make hundreds of millions and star casts full of supermen. But it should be recognized. It’s a film written and directed by women, about women—women in their 40s, I might add. And it will make you laugh, make you feel and make you better appreciate the relationships you have with your own best friends.

Regan Reid is a Toronto-based freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter.