Review: Ordinary Love
REVIEW: Think of ORDINARY LOVE as the low-key, indie answer to the overwrought romantic melodramas that used to be a thing around this time of year, before studios all but gave up on romance, leaving the genre to folks like Netflix and TV. In some ways, as an audience we’ve been trained to expect massive tragedy and oceans of tears anytime we see a romance, which makes ORDINARY LOVE a bit of a breath of fresh air because – well – it’s all right there in the title.
Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville play Tom and Joan, a likable Irish couple who’ve weathered a few storms, notably the death of their daughter, but have come through it all as a devoted couple. They’re not perfect but they seem utterly happy to be in each other’s company. They do that nice couple thing where they have little in-jokes and make fun of each other’s peccadillos (he likes his beer, she likes to order him around) but you can tell they’re really in love even if they’re not super handsy like a couple of kids.
When Joan is diagnosed with breast cancer, I assumed ORDINARY LOVE was going to become a merciless tear-jerker, but it’s not. Rather, it examines the reality of such an illness and the effect it has on a long-standing couple. Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, working from a script by playwright Owen McCafferty, acknowledge that during an illness like this, both halves of the couple, the sick one and the healthy one, go on their own journeys, and neither can be perfect all the way through. They say and do things they regret, they have trouble relating to what each is going through and, in some ways, they resent each other – but you never doubt their love and commitment. Nothing major happens in a melodramatic way, and in many ways, ORDINARY LOVE says a lot about love and relationships without saying much of anything at all.
While the slice of life approach may turn off some, others will be refreshed by how grown up it is. It’s anchored by two excellent performances. Manville is sweet as the warm-hearted, lucky in love Joan (it’s the exact opposite of her celebrated role in Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR), who’s believably frightened by her diagnosis but doesn’t let it change her life too much (evidenced by a small exchange with her hubby where she insists on cooking the pork chops she had planned on making before her diagnosis for dinner that night). She’s easy to relate to. The same goes for Liam Neeson, in a departure given that nowadays, for better or worse, he’s known as an action hero (lest we forget his twenty-plus years as a character actor). He’s great as her dependable, if occasionally frustrated hubby, who wishes he could do more but is ultimately powerless in the face of a diagnosis.
In some ways, this felt like a Ken Loach film in that it’s low-key and realistic, but it’s a beautifully performed, believable look at what makes a relationship last. For those eager to see Neeson is something a little different or want a love story that’s a touch more mature than usual, ORDINARY LOVE is well worth checking out.