Ordinary Love

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Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in Ordinary Love.
Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in Ordinary Love.
Photo: Showmax


Ordinary Love




4/5 Stars


Tom and Joan are a middle-aged married couple, happy and content with one another (even when they drive each other crazy) and life even after having to pick up the pieces of a crushing tragedy that took their only daughter away from them. When Joan finds a lump in her breast, though, old feelings come to the fore and their love is once again challenged by the looming spectre of death.


Ordinary Love is a powerful exploration of an "ordinary" relationship tested by a horrible experience that is sadly far from extraordinary. It's a film that is witty, intimately involving and utterly believable, centred on a couple of veteran actors doing some of the best work of their respective careers. It is a film that is almost entirely without a single misstep or dramatic flaw, and its overall message that there is really very little that is ordinary about love is so elegantly expressed that it lands not as a well-worn, sentimental cliché but as the most profound truth ever uttered. It's pretty much a perfect film – it's just that it's one that is rather difficult to recommend.  

Ordinary Love is not the sort of "cancer movie" that is particularly interested in keeping you in suspense whether or not our hero(ine) will be around by the final credits and it is not exploitative misery porn in any way shape or form. It is, however, almost for too authentic and believable in its portrayal of what battling cancer looks like for both the patient and their families because I found it genuinely tough to sit through it. 

From the arduous, sickening process of waiting endlessly for a potentially terminal diagnosis that is followed by weeks, even months, of debilitating treatment, the journey of cancer treatment depicted so perfectly in Ordinary Love is all too familiar too far too many of us – whether by going through it ourselves or watching helplessly on the sidelines as our loved ones fight valiantly, painfully, sometimes unsuccessfully against that most dreadful of dread diseases. As someone who has lost family members to cancer, Ordinary Love hit so close to home that I literally spent the entire film in a state of heightened, queasy unease.

It is entirely possible that those coming from a similar perspective might find a level of catharsis in the film and those who, to their great fortune, can't relate to it may well be able to sit back and be entirely won over by the film's undeniable brilliance without the accompanying stomach-churningly visceral reaction to it. If you react to it at all like I did, though, there's a good chance that you'll find yourself wondering just why on Earth you're putting yourself through something that reminds you, in vivid, heartbreaking detail, of something that you would rather forget.

The answer, of course, is that if you are likely to be "triggered" by it, you really ought not to subject yourself to Ordinary Love. Take that as a sincere and empathic warning. It's not the sort of film that I believe you really ought to sit through, even just the once, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes you because unlike, say, Schindler's List or 12 Years a Slave, which are films that portray real-life events that are far removed from most of our frame of reference but should never be forgotten, there's no real need to suffer through Ordinary Love.

Taking all of that on board, though, if you do think you can at all manage it, I can hardly recommend the film enough.

Written by Irish playwright, Owen McCafferty, in his first turn at writing a screenplay, there is undeniably something theatrical about the fact that the film is so intimately concentrated on our central couple. There is some great support from David Wilmot as Peter, a terminal cancer patient who forms a tight friendship with Joan, and from Amit Shah as Peter's partner, Steve, but this is clearly Joan and Tom's story. Indeed, a large part of why the film hit me on such a purely visceral level is because the film never feels like anything less than a peek into the actual lives of a loving couple going through an extremely difficult time in their lives. It's so effective that it feels almost invasive.

Amazingly, though, this is not a "cinema verite" kind of film. The dialogue is too witty and too dramatic to create any sort of pretence that we're watching anything but a meticulously crafted story and it is filmed in a way that is clearly and unabashedly cinematic. And yet, it's no less believable for it.

Directors, Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn, in their first film since 2012 and their wonderfully joyous ode to the Irish punk rock scene of the late '70s, Good Vibrations, are clearly undaunted by the massive shift in tone as they show the same sure-handed ease at mixing the dramatic and the grounded tackling middle-aged cancer patients as they do a grungy but vibrant musical sub-culture.

And, of course, they have Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson turning in the work of their careers. While the former has remained a highly acclaimed dramatic actress working primarily in British cinema and the latter is, well, Liam Neeson, it's impressive just how effortlessly both actors sink into their characters.

This is not the work of a couple of veteran actors showing off their acting skills with grandstanding and awards-clip-worthy monologues but of a pair of old pros entirely inhabiting their roles and making us forget that any acting is happening at all. As Liam and Lesley vanish into their roles, Tom and Joan become an entirely believable, "ordinary" couple with their own idiosyncrasies and their own easy, intimate chemistry that quickly has you forgetting that the people playing them haven't actually been married to one another for decades.

And it's exactly this masterful tearing down of the walls between fiction and reality that is key to both the undeniable artistic success of Ordinary Love and why it just may be too real for some viewers. Whether or not you're up to it is, of course, entirely up to you but if you are don't let it pass you by. Either way, though, do hunt down Good Vibrations if you're one of the 6.9999 billion people who haven't seen it. There's certainly no equivocating about that recommendation.


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