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Catherine Hardwicke's 'Miss You Already' Brightens Unexpected Places

Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette lend comedic flair to an inherently heartbreaking storyline

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Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette and Dominic Cooper in 'Miss You Already." Photo credit: Nick Wall.

The emotional intensity of director Catherine Hardwicke's new film, Miss You Already, is offset by alacritous humor. It's a story of cancer – the diagnosis, the treatment, the way it affects friends and family – but it's also a story of an extraordinary friendship between two women.

Played by Toni Collette and Drew Barrymore, Milly and Jess have been best friends since childhood. And when Milly, a vivacious pop music publicist and mother of two with a fabulous life in London, gets breast cancer, it's Jess who sits by her side during chemotherapy sessions, promises to love her even after her double mastectomy and gets pulled off to the English moors for an impromptu Wuthering Heights overnight.

“It's a bond we all long for, that soul mate, that beautiful person that will love you no matter what and not judge you,” said Hardwicke whose other films include Twilight and Thirteen. “When I first met with Drew she told me her favorite movies are movies about platonic love stories, and I'm like – oh that's cool! How many are like that? There's not that many movies like that out there.”

Miss You Already is certainly unique – not only in its portrayal of a relationship between two strong women – but in the way it so honestly conveys the roller coaster of cancer. With close-up shots, Hardwicke zeroes in on visceral scenes like when the chemo needle goes into Milly's vein, or when she gets her head shaved and the camera captures the sad courage in her eyes.

Both Hardwicke and screenwriter Morwenna Banks, who also penned the acclaimed radio play Goodbye, which the movie is based on, drew from personal experiences while making the film. Banks wrote the story after losing three friends to breast cancer in their thirties, and Hardwicke's own father died of pancreatic cancer.

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Toni Collette, Paddy Considine, Catherine Hardwicke and Drew Barrymore on the set of 'Miss You Already.' Photo credit: Nick Wall.

“He was cracking crazy off-color jokes the whole time,” she said. “Until the last second he was saying funny stuff. So that is what attracted me to the script – the humor. You can't just have a sad story, you've got to be laughing too, and my dad was literally cracking jokes until one hour before he died.”

Barrymore and Collette clicked instantly, improvising lines and infusing the film with their own comedic flair. “Some of the funniest stuff they came up with off the top of their heads,” Hardwicke said, describing as an example the scene where the characters bond over postpartum hemorrhoid issues (Barrymore gave birth to her second child months before filming started and her character in the movie deals with fertility challenges).

“They're just incredible,” Hardwicke said. “They come from the heart, and from the place of the character.”

During filming, Hardwicke employed rehearsal methods learned while working as a production designer on Richard Linklater films. “Working with him, I saw how valuable it was to go to the real location and sit on the real bed and feel like you really live in that house and figure out where you feel comfortable, so I like to do that too.” But spontaneity also played a role, and when the camera crew ran out of camera cards, Hardwicke found herself relying on her own quick-thinking.

In one scene Jess and Milly channel the wild-child antics of their schoolgirl years as they make their way out of London in a taxi en route to the moorlands. Milly's drunk and reckless and Jess, who doesn't really want to venture to northern England, eventually gives in to her friend's charisma as she's done so many times before. The scene is rollicking as city lights flash across the back of the cab where the pair breaks into a frenzy of excitement singing along with the blaring radio and screaming “We're going to the moors!” It's a compelling scene, infused with energy, and Hardwicke shot it on her iPhone.

“It was the only thing I had in my hand,” she explained. “We were in the cab shooting and the camera crew ran out of cards. I didn't want us to be sitting there doing nothing because for a director every moment is precious. So I said to Drew and Toni, 'Let's do it on the iPhone, like selfies.' They were so in the moment and so alive and just having fun with it.”

While Miss You Already is a motivator for people to be aware of their health and get regular cancer screenings, the film also highlights how important a strong support system is for cancer patients. “I like the idea of helping to bring light into the world instead of glorifying darkness,” Hardwicke said. “We've got a lot of movies where somebody's daughter gets killed or kidnapped and we've got an excuse to go shoot and kill people, but I don't really know if that's helping the world right now. So I would like to do things that give us insight into humanity or inspire people. I think that's a good goal.”

Miss You Already is now playing in theatres.