Catherine Hardwicke on Friendship and Cancer in Miss You Already

To say that Catherine Hardwicke has made a career out of balancing edge with emotion isn't much of a stretch. Her films often mix authenticity with a sense of heightened reality and Miss You Already is no exception.

In the first ten minutes of her latest feature, she and writer Morwenna Banks present the entire friendship of Milly (Toni Collette) and Jess (Drew Barrymore) in a montage that covers everything with an energy often lacking in scenes that span decades. "We explored all the Martin Scorsese films, and even some by Woody Allen, that have a successful montage," director Catherine Hardwicke explains over the phone during an interview with New Times.

"I realized it was the most concise and fun way to tell the back story instead of trying to embed all that into every scene. You kind of just go through the opening montage and get it in your bloodstream that these two girls have been friends for a damn long time and they've been through a lot. It also adds a kind of energy to it, and each of those scenes was kind of crazy and cool."

And there's a certain energy to all of Hardwicke's work, a seemingly off-the-cuff and naturalistic style that's persisted through Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, and even Twilight. It's the sort of thing that instills intimacy in a film and it's something that Banks' script — about two women whose friendship is tested by pregnancy and cancer — needed in order to work as well as it does.

Speaking to the personal nature of the film, Hardwicke says, "When I did Thirteen, it's kind of in this style too, where you really feel like you're part of the family. The photographer Nan Goldin kind of started that where you're literally right there, with the family, with people in these intimate moments. It just draws you in."

That intimacy also translates into the almost improvised nature that comes through in certain scenes. "The scene where Milly is telling her husband about having breast cancer and starts laughing and says, 'I can't believe I'm laughing about this' wasn't in the script," she reveals. "Half of the scene was written as silent, and I talked to Dominic [Cooper] and Toni about how they'd feel and they just went with it."

The scene, which she describes as "beautiful," was even shot with a handheld camera, as suggested by director of photography and frequent collaborator, Elliot Davis. Scenes such as the one Hardwicke describes are what bring authenticity to the story Miss You Already is telling: it presents cancer as a disease without sugar-coating it or being melodramatic. "We did try to keep it kind of off-the-cuff. I wanted to be like, 'Yep, there's a needle. Yep, she vomited and she's doing chemotherapy,' because that's just a part of her life," Hardwicke says of the presentation.

"I think what happened is that we just tried to be living this movie. Toni, Drew, myself, the cinematographer — we've all had encounters with this disease in a close friend or relative. My dad was just kind of laughing the whole time he had pancreatic cancer. So I love that spirit and what we were trying to do was show those unexpected moments of the buoyancy of the human spirit and how people make you laugh through the toughest times."

One particularly interesting feature is that the film unabashedly shows a woman's mastectomy scars, to which the director admits, "It was pretty intense because we were trying to figure out how personal to make it. And you can go online and see these things, but it's different on screen. It's heartbreaking and it's radical, but it's also empowering and important to show this story, and to have someone embrace [Milly] and tell her that her scars are beautiful.

"So many people go through this," she adds, "and I saw [the film] with several breast cancer survivors and women who had mastectomies came up to me afterward and said, 'You got it right, this is my story.' And it made them laugh and cry and it was cathartic for them. I think it's what I dreamt it would be."

But regardless of being a film that heavily features cancer, it is at its core a film all about the friendship between these two women. Many older male critics have dismissed the film as "too emotional" or the characters as "unlikeable", but Hardwicke has no interest in that kind of nonsense. "I'm so tired of that," she says bluntly. "If a man is emotional, he's sensitive, but if a woman is, she's hysterical. They're still operating in that frame of unconscious gender bias. It's like, 'Get over it.'"

Much like the director, her actresses are fully aware of how important it is to see a story of female friendship on screen. "The first time I met with Drew Barrymore about this movie, she said her favorite movies are platonic love stories," she enlightens.

And Hardwicke herself loves that her film allows its women to call each other's bluffs and not take each other's shit, but also ends with the same kind of grand gesture one might find in a romantic comedy. "Nobody is a saint in this movie, nobody is a hero. But the movie shows that this friendship is the ultimate love."

Miss You Already opens in theaters Friday, November 6.

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