Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 58 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 0; Language 4; Sex 5/Nudity 1.
Our star rating: (1-5): 4
A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice.
Proverbs 27:9 (NIV)
The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1 Corinthians 15:26
Do not let any male friends put down director Catherine Hardwicke’s new London-set film as a “chick flick.” Only a troglodyte would come away from this sensitive and beautifully acted movie and call it a “weepie.” Tears there are aplenty, on and in front of the screen, but the story of Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette), best of friends since grade school, is a celebration of friendship—thus it is not another TV “disease of the month” story. Illness and death permeate the film, but friendship, female friendship in particular, is the theme. As a guy I felt privileged to be able to peek in at their intimate moments, both when they laugh out loud, and when they cry together—thanks to Morwenna Banks’ fine script.
The two women are different in many ways. Milly, the more vain and bold one, lives in a stylish townhouse with her two rambunctious children and an adoring husband. Her mini-skirted mother Miranda (Jacqueline Bisset) is frequently hovering about, apparently making up for the time when she paid more attention to a glamorous career than to her young daughter. Jess, comfortable playing second to Milly, lives with her husband in a houseboat moored to the side of a canal. The two have been striving to produce a child, going to clinics and submitting to intrusive procedures. Then, when they finally succeed, Jess has to play second fiddle again. When Milly reveals she has breast cancer it would be cruel of Jess to share her joy at being pregnant. It is ironic that as she secretly rejoices at the beginning of a new life, her dearest friend faces a threat that might end hers.
The story explores the many ups and downs of their friendship, differing from other sickness films by going into far more detail of cancer treatment, first of chemotherapy, and then of the surgical procedure of and recovery from a mastectomy. During the nausea-producing procedure of the first round of treatment Milly notices at various moments small tufts of her hair coming out. At the hospital the patient wigmaker Jill (Frances de la Tour) patiently helps Milly try on a wide variety of wigs, some of which induce laughter among the three—yes, Jess is there, as she is almost always on hand to support her friend.) Miranda might have been too, but I do not recall.) Quietly suggesting that it is time to shave off the thinning hair so the wigs will fit better, she uses the shears while Milly stoically watches in the mirror. With the hair on the floor, Jill gently rubs Milly’s shorn head. There is little dialogue during this operation, but none is needed.
The two husbands are sometimes perplexed as Milly’s cancer impinges on their lives. Her husband Kit (Dominic Cooper), unable to engage in sex with her, watches helplessly her mood swings and outbursts. Feeling no longer physically attractive, Milly turns what starts out as a wonderful. Impromptu night trip to the moors made famous in their favorite novel, Wuthering Heights, into a tryst with the bar tender she had known back in London. Jess is so shocked by her friend’s indiscretion that the two break off for a while. Jess herself is concerned that husband Jago (Paddy Considine)’s job requires him to work at an oil rig platform far out at sea, this during the crucial months leading up to her delivery.
The reconciliation and birth scenes are incredibly touching, the latter even amusing because Jago has to watch it via Skype, with his workmates helping the unsteady reception by climbing up on a bunk to hold the wireless router higher. By this time Milly and Jess have reconciled and the former lives in a hospice. Despite her condition she insists on leaving to join her friend in the delivery room. Mother Miranda is a big help in this, donning a white coat and pretending to be a doctor as she wheels her daughter past the security guard and receptionist.
The filmmakers and their characters are thoroughly secularized, so no one speaks of God or turns to prayer to relieve their fears and sorrows. If a hospice chaplain ever paid a call on Milly, it is not depicted in the film. The closest the script approaches spirituality is in the moving scene in which Milly is trying to explain to her little daughter Scarlett (Sophie Brown) her impending death. The thought of her mother not living to see her grow up is too much, even though Milly tries to reassure her that her spirit will be with her. Also, there is a brief nod to spirituality during the end credits, noticeable only to those paying attention. Earlier Milly and Jess had visited one of London’s Before I Die Walls, part of a movement that began in New Orleans*. An outside wall had been covered with blackboard paint upon which is printed in large letters BEFORE I DIE…Hundreds of passers-by have completed the sentence by printing in chalk such intentions as taking a trip or improving themselves. The friends gaze at the wall and add, “Fear nothing.” The Wall and its myriad of contributions form the backdrop for the end credits, and over on the left we read, “Believe in God”—not once, but two or three times.
* For more on this intriguing movement use the following link:
Also an article by Candy Chang at http://candychang.com/before-i-die-in-nola/
Roadside Attractions & Lions Gate