Aheartbreaker as much as it is a comedy, Catherine Hardwicke’s film will make you laugh, cry, and leave you with a philosophical dilemma: what do you say to someone who’s recently been diagnosed with breast cancer? And what about when they recover but the cancer recurs – fatally – in the brain?
The story follows best-friends Jess (Drew Barrymore) and Milly (Toni Collette) as they come to terms with the fragility of human life. On hand are their two very different husbands: a quiet engineer (Paddy Considine) and a ‘grown-up’ rockstar (Dominic Cooper).
The film deals with a range of topics: cancer, fertility, family, affairs – and it isn’t afraid to be bold. Neither Milly’s mother nor husband can cope with looking at her face, let alone her mastectomy scars, driving the now-terminal cancer sufferer to sleep with a barman. An understandable affair: cancer patients still have desires; they still need to be appreciated, to be loved. Particularly harrowing is Milly’s relationship with her children: first having to explain chemotherapy using a cartoon, before having to forewarn them that she wouldn’t be coming home: ‘But you’re not going to die, are you, mummy?’
“The film deals with a range of topics: cancer, fertility, family, affairs – and it isn’t afraid to be bold”
At the same time, the film does this with a sense of humour. Jess and Milly hire a sympathetic taxi-driver to take them from London to the Yorkshire Moors (cue a cheer from the audience), only to be greeted by a mardy guesthouse-owner who probably didn’t appreciate being asked to get into bed with the women.
Collette’s ‘selfish’ character has a tendency to come across as cold and unsympathetic, yet attracts sympathy nonetheless. There are witty moments, counterbalanced by the seriousness of Milly’s illness. The film humanely breaks-down a series of film-industry taboos, and more importantly makes the viewer question them.
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