Milly and Jess have been best friends practically all their lives. They’ve experienced everything together, though Milly has always been in the lead with Jess following after. With Milly happily married with two children and Jess recently married and trying for children, everything seems perfect—until Milly discovers that she has breast cancer.
This is The Cancer Movie, for me. It is also about friendship, and life and all sorts of other things, but to me, it is the movie that I want to watch when I’m grieving and want to wallow for a little while.
My verdict is that this is a brilliant movie. Go see it.
This is going to be a very personal review.
I am extremely wary of cancer movies. Having watched and read A Walk to Remember in my teens and read The Fault in Our Stars in my early twenties, I had noticed one glaring problem with the stories. I couldn’t see enough grief. To me, it seemed that these stories tried to emphasize how very perfect the dying person was; what a tragedy it would be that the world would lose someone so wonderful and with so much potential.
But to me, that only distances me from the narrative. There is no such thing as a perfect person. Even when people are sick or dying, in my experience, this brings out not the best but the worst in everyone. Where are the arguments? I would think. Where is the lashing out? Where is the emotion seeping through the cracks despite their best efforts to keep it bottled up?
This was my opinion before I had any experience with the real life equivalent. After I had that experience, I tried to revisit the aforementioned two stories. What had seemed infuriating and naive storytelling before now felt laughably fake and held no connection to the reality that I knew.
That was why, when I saw an ad for Miss You Already on a plane, I shrugged to myself and though, well, even if it’s horrid, at least I’ll have a good laugh.
Instead, I ended up sobbing as the movie hit every chord of the reality I knew.
Milly is not perfect. I wouldn’t in a million years want to be Jess and have to deal with Milly’s antics. But Jess loves her. She isn’t perfect to Jess either, but Jess loves and cares for her because she’s the crazy, out-of-control woman that she is. They make ridiculous innuendos at inappropriate times and exchange inside jokes, and can go from flippant to serious and back at the drop of a hat. Even when Milly is furious with Jess, even when Jess is exasperated with Milly, still there is always love between them.
This, to me, is friendship.
Milly’s cancer sweeps the feet out from everyone around her, including Jess. Milly puts her brave face on: to her children, to her husband and to Jess. Everyone follows her example and does the same. For a little while, it seems like they might make it through on sheer Power of Love and optimism.
But as the outlook grows bleaker and bleaker, Milly’s strong countenance begins to crack and with it, the facade of everyone’s bravery and optimism cracks too. Beneath lie a million insecurities and hidden feelings: Milly’s husband’s hesitation at her mastectomy scars, her children’s questions of whether she is going to die and Milly’s own terror are only the most obvious of these. Milly grows angrier and wilder, and at the same time more and more needy and helpless.
Jess, months into a pregnancy that she hasn’t found a good time to tell Milly about, gets swept along for the ride. Jess’s husband’s patience runs out with Milly long before Jess’s, and Jess finds herself torn between her rocky marriage and her dying best friend. Jess tries to cope, to appease everyone, until at last she can’t take Milly’s recklessness anymore and lashes out.
The movie deals with the period between the anger and the resigned acceptance of the inevitable death through a time skip of a few months during which Jess and Milly aren’t speaking. This is my only complaint. Jess’s distancing herself from Milly until Milly came back to her was certainly the healthy thing to do. But at the same time, my heart twists at the thought that Jess could leave her best friend for months even as said best friend was dying with only months left.
That said, when they meet again, once again, I am enamored of the portrayal of Milly’s cancer. It ages her, inside and out. Her once-firy emotions have cooled to resignation and a single slow-burning ember: the wish to hold on just long enough to meet Jess’s baby.
The birth scene is certainly a lot more silly and dramatic than is necessarily realistic, but I don’t begrudge the movie that, because it offers laughter and an invitation to the audience to join in this moment of happiness amidst the grief.
The death, once again, was exquisitely done. Milly’s slack face, her labored breathing, the way Jess and Milly’s husband are clearly keeping Milly company as they wait for her to die… It is poignant and very much in keeping with my own experience. The entire movie is. Of course, the details are all entirely different—but the emotions, the conflicts, the fallible humanity, the helplessness, the way life just keeps going and they still make silly jokes even as death approaches… They’re real to me. The entire movie speaks to me and touches me in a way that no other story ever has.
Which is why this is one of my favorite movies.