tue 23/07/2024

Ordinary Love review - small but (almost) perfectly formed | reviews, news & interviews

Ordinary Love review - small but (almost) perfectly formed

Ordinary Love review - small but (almost) perfectly formed

Northern Irish film tugs truthfully, unflinchingly at the heart

From the heart: Liam Neeson in 'Ordinary Love'

Amidst the deluge of high-profile year-end releases, it would be a shame if the collective Oscar-bait noise drowned out Ordinary Love, as quietly extraordinary a film as has been seen in some time.

Telling of a couple whose marriage is impacted by a cancer diagnosis, this collaboration between the husband-and-wife team of Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa offers a performance for the ages from Lesley Manville, whose career ascendancy in middle age remains a wonder to behold.

Liam Neeson, playing Manville’s beloved yet often bewildered husband, isn’t far behind in a portrait of domesticity that acts as an impromptu complement to the broader-brush fireworks of Marriage Story: whereas Noah Baumbach’s film scalds, this one burrows quietly and deeply under the skin. It also takes an altogether more charitable and tender view of partnership: life’s curve balls, in shared company at least, can in fact be batted back.

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in 'Ordinary Love'When first glimpsed on one of their seafront walks that will end up framing a Belfast-based film, Tom (Neeson) and Joan (Manville) display an immediately identifiable rapport built from years of intimacy that allows them to crack jokes at one another’s ever-affectionate expense, pausing at times to acknowledge the death of their only child: a daughter whose premature passing is frequently referenced but never explained. Indeed, amongst the few people permitted entry into what is in effect a sustained two-hander is a terminally ill teacher (David Wilmot) of the couple's late daughter, Debbie, a man whose grieving partner (Amit Shah) enters the final reel to ramp up the weight of heartache.  

The deliberate refusal to over-explicate is of a pared-down piece with a script from the playwright Owen McCafferty (Scenes From the Big Picture) that keeps a tight rein on the narrative, erring only in one or two scenes that turn jarringly mawkish. (Shah's funeral oration late on feels out of kilter with the tone that prevails elsewhere.) We learn nothing about the work lives of either of the couple, who are seen simply to exist with and for one another – a concord that will prove useful when Joan, discovering a lump in her breast one day while showering, turns out to have cancer.

Lesley Manville in 'Ordinary Love'What ensues is a rigorous, unflinching portrait of Joan’s surgery and treatment, as her illness in turn threatens to upend a longtime bond that turns out to be not so easily broken. We follow Joan from diagnosis through to chemo and reconstruction, the film at no point no more moving than in a love scene that makes clear a bond so deep that it extends well beyond the physical. (How refreshing, too, to find a movie that actually views people in middle age as sexual beings!) Neeson and Manville chart the shifting emotional tides of the pair with unerring skill, whether teasing one another about their supermarket purchases or turning savage in a brief, and instantly regretted, moment when Joan's pain prompts her to lash out at a husband as scared as she is who is doing the very best he can.

His sad eyes communicating a very real fear of renewed loss, Neeson reminds us of the capacious reserves of an actor better-known for action movie parts that scarcely test him. Manville slid toward a separate oblivion onstage in Long Day's Journey into Night and is every bit as remarkable here, Joan's compassion at war with an undulating anger that must find release and, in the film's most shattering scene, does. 

The film gently insists on perhaps the best holiday-season message of all in its suggestion that what remains in life for those lucky enough to experience it is love.


How refreshing to find a movie that actually views people in middle age as sexual beings


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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