Thursday, November 5, 2015

Women In Film: MISS YOU ALREADY

I hope MISS YOU ALREADY director Catherine Hardwicke reads this.  The way critic Ben Kenigsberg in Variety reduced her new film to being just an "overwrought cancer weepie" irritated me.  What he wrote also stuck me as sexist.  I bet if I took my mother to see Miss You Already, we'd have a lively, revealing conversation about it later. My mother has been a breast cancer survivor since 1972.  I thought about her while watching the movie and I thought about her longtime bond with her late best friend, the hysterically funny woman I lovingly called "Auntie Jean."  Actress/film director Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette totally click as longtime best friends in Miss You Already.  The gal pals have known each since they were little schoolgirls and now they're in relationships.  Collette, the rock 'n' roll free spirit, married a mate who complements that spirit.
Marriage agrees with her.  She becomes a mom.  He's a devoted dad and husband.  The other friend and her fellow keep trying to have a kid.  In time, they'll be successful.  We know that because the film opens with Barrymore's Jess so pregnant that she looks like she swallowed a small planet.  She's in labor and shouting to the nurse that she needs drugs. A flashback shows us the history of this colorful and laugh-filled friendship.
About ten minutes after that funny opening scene, things get serious when Collette's Milly gets word from her doctor that she has a malignant lump in her breast.  For the rest of the film, we see how the threat of death and the news of a long-desired pregnancy that'll bring new life into the world affect the durable friendship and the relationships the women have with the men in their lives.
Yes, the screenplay is crafted to make you cry.  Some moments are really over the top, yet even the Variety critic had to admit that Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette deliver very fine performances.  In Miss You Already, director Catherine Hardwicke shines a light on the durability and longevity of female friendships.  Think about it.  When it comes to male bonding, we really don't see a lot of films which there's a durability and longevity and intimacy in a male friendship through the decades.  Maybe that's because male Hollywood executives think that intimacy in a male friendship always equals a sexual encounter...like in Brokeback Mountain.  We've seen women be close friends through decades -- look at the Bette Davis movie Old Acquaintance (1943), Mame and Vera in Auntie Mame (1958), The Turning Point starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft (1977) and Beaches (1988) starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.  The 1960s Catholic school comedy, The Trouble with Angels, has a tender look at female bonding in youth, middle age and old age.  The 1966 film was directed by actress Ida Lupino.  (You want to be impressed?  Go to IMDb.com and search Ida Lupino.  Click on her list of credits as Actress and then click onto her list of credits as Director.)

Many films about male bonding and friendships are road trips or stories with men and an immediate crisis on a playing field or a battlefield. Think of war movies such as From Here To Eternity, Saving Private Ryan or even 300.  But, when it comes to emotional intimacy in a male friendship, I can't think of many modern films that can match the emotional depth of the central male friendship in Kings Row (1942) directed by Sam Wood.  From little boyhood to young manhood, we see a friendship that endures romantic disappointments, death of loved ones, poverty and physical disability.  That unapologetically intimate, strong male friendship puts a tear in my eye.  I wonder if Ben Kenigsberg of Variety would classify that as a "weepie." Did he imply that a tight friendship of over 20 years with emotional intimacy and a heartbreaking physical challenge is women's stuff?  I wish there were more films today like Kings Row or the 2006 French film, My Best Friend, directed by Patrice Leconte.

Dominic Cooper, so fabulous as the sexy and lovable Dakin in History Boys and seen as Howard Stark in the Agent Carter TV series on ABC, plays the devoted, loving Kit.
Kit is good friends with Jess' mate, Jago, played by Paddy Considine.
What if there roles were reversed?  What if those two men had been best friends since boyhood and one of them was a family man diagnosed with testicular cancer?  Would Mr. Kenigsberg still call it a "weepie"?  One of the boldest elements of Hardwicke's film -- and one of the most memorable -- shows how Milly's double mastectomy affects the sex life of her marriage.  She and Kit have kept the fun lust alive in their marriage.  Now things are different.  He must come to terms with the severe change in her physical appearance.  As for the love, the song remains the same.  But with the illness and how it's affected her body, the sex life is now a song that needs a different arrangement and new phrasing.  I did find myself thinking of how much emphasis we put on women's breasts as being key to their total value -- often more than character, spirit and intelligence.  The breasts make them desirable.  The stark reality in bed of Milly's illness halts Kit's lovemaking. It's a strong moment.  My parents divorced. Mom was single working mother raising three children in South Central L.A.  She did hope to meet another man and have a second marriage.  But, as a single working mother who underwent a mastectomy, she did wonder if she'd meet a man who could accept her the way she was.  Mom never remarried.

That's why I feel Mom and I would have one really deep discussion if we saw Miss You Already and talked about it over a bite to eat afterwards.  She took a few steps through the emotional turf of this movie back in the 1970s, long before there was a Breast Cancer Awareness month in America.

I like the fluidity Hardwicke gave to her film.  It's a slick package.  The camera moves, the editing is brisk yet not overdone.  There's not a MTV music video style of editing with cuts just for the sake of cuts every three to five seconds. However, we do hear a soundtrack that calls to mind the days when MTV did play music videos. Miss You Already is visually pleasing with a warm color palette. Hardwicke had similar camera fluidity in one of her earlier films that I totally dig -- and one showed the range of the late Heath Ledger.  Based on a true Southern California story, the film is 2005's Lords of Dogtown. It followed the hot skateboarding craze in 1970s Venice, California and some low-income teen dudes who gained celeb status for their skateboarding skills. I'm from Los Angeles.  Australian Ledger mastered a Southern California accent and attitude as Skip, the skateboard designer and surfer dude.

Collette did some excellent work and Barrymore is at her most appealing in this mature role.  There's also a funny, tasty turn by Jacqueline Bisset as Milly's blonde soap opera TV star mother, a celebrity who leans on Jess for emotional support and guidance.
Miss You Already may not go on to become a classic like 1939's Dark Victory, starring Bette Davis, or 1983's Terms of Endearment starring Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger.  Nonetheless, it does have some commendable things going for it.  Plus, it was good to see this kind of drama about a critically ill woman directed from a woman's viewpoint.  Brava, Ms. Hardwicke, for getting it done your way.

Miss You Already opens November 6th.







1 comment:

  1. In Ben Kenigsberg's defence, I heard Catherine Hardwicke interviewed on the radio and the way she talked about the film and about her filmmaking career in general, I don't think she's an auteur looking to explore new territory. In fact she sounded only about as deep as someone who makes "cancer weepies" and would, unapologetically, do it again. It may have been sexist, I don't know, but in this case, I'd dig deeper.

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