ORDINARY LOVE – Review
Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville give touching, strong performances as a long-married couple who face a health challenge, in co-directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s drama ORDINARY LOVE. This gentle,well-acted drama focuses on an ordinary older couple whose ordinary daily routine is disrupted by fate, and whose ordinary love must sustain them through it.
Of course, ordinary people and ordinary love are often not so ordinary, and may be filled with a surprising strength. Which is rather the point of this quiet, thoughtful drama, whose strength lies in the fine performances of these two outstanding actors.
Much of the early part of this film focuses on getting to know the couple as they go about the moments of daily life, whether having breakfast, shopping for groceries or engaging in the same gentle arguments about driving. There is a relaxed, comfortable intimacy in their longstanding relationship. Joan (Manville) is the health-conscious one of the couple, with Tom (Neeson) playfully rebelling or at least pushing back on her efforts to get him to exercise more and drink less beer, although he generally complies. Despite their teasing, the love between them is warm and palpable.
Their playful, warm relationship is comforting and comfortable but unpleasant fate intrudes in the form of a health crisis. Yet it is health-nut Joan, not Tom, who finds herself facing this threat. When Joan is given a cancer diagnosis, Tom is determined to be there for Joan, to be her rock, but the journey is rockier than either expect, challenging even their durable bond.
Tom is the jokester in this relationship and as much as he tries, shifting that relationship dynamic is difficult. This is as much so for Joan, who is used to being in charge. Tom wants to do the right thing but sometimes isn’t sure what that is, and his uncertainty tugs at our hearts. When Joan, frustrated and afraid, lashes out at Tom. It feels unfair but may reflect a bad moment in their relationship. The directors only hint at that possibility, leaving us in the dark about any details, as any onlookers might be on anothers’ marriage.
To complicate matters, Joan and Tom seem very much alone in this road, having lost their only child, a daughter, some years earlier. Sure they have the support of friends, who are there for them when needed most, but it is not really the same as having family there in this time of crisis and difficulty. Tom and Joan only have each other.
All this fraught emotion places great demands on the actors. Not every actor would be up to this task, risking letting the film sink into the maudlin or melodrama. But Manville and Neeson transcend, lifting to material into the profound, finding deeper human truths in the personal story.
With Neeson and Manville, ORDINARY LOVE is a moving, romantic, inspiring portrait of mature love. Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn have crafted the kind of fine, intimate human drama one more often sees from the great director Mike Leigh. This intimate human drama is elevated above the mundane by the strong, warm, and brave performances from both actors, particularly Manville, as she endures the indignities of cancer treatment. If one has to go through that kind of ordeal, an “ordinary love” like Tom and Joan have is what one would hope to have to get one through it. ORDINARY LOVE opens Friday, February 28, at Landmark’s Plaza Frontenac Cinema.
RATING: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars