“Ordinary Love” is movie that is quite ordinary. If by that – ‘ordinary’ should mean: deeply emotional, very naturalistic, cleverly written (but not in a pretentious manner), wonderfully acted and full of subtle views of a strong and long-lasting marriage. In other words, this movie is not ordinary at all. But instead, it is a very positive portrayal of two people who are Best Friends – and just happen to be married. It is master-course in acting and shows how on-screen chemistry is the formula for beautiful way to see these characters.
Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Lesley Manville) are the two parts that make a whole. They are Ying and Yang of each other’s lives. Long married and now retired, this couple has seen a tragic event in the death of their daughter years ago. In a lesser couple, that type of strain on the marriage could have torn them apart and made them bitter. But Joan and Tom have learned to rely on each other for strength and for continued hope. They live a simple and comfortable life in a town located in Northern Ireland, and they have no worries. They banter and bicker over soup and Brussel sprouts – and who should take down the Christmas ornaments.
But there is a change in the status quo when Joan finds a lump while in the shower. She gets to the doctor for an examination. Every time, Tom is right there with her, to give her support. The biopsy finds that there are cancer cells. Joan must undergo surgical procedures to remove all the infected tissue. She has recommendations for chemotherapy, and she needs to follow that up with a double mastectomy. Joan is quite troubled by all of this, and her spirits are down. Tom is very affected on the inside, but he tries not to show it. He wants to continue to be strong for Joan.
During the treatment session Joan sees a man who was their daughter’s teacher quite a while ago. She talks to Peter (David Wilmot) – who is terminally ill. He is undergoing chemotherapy for the benefit of his partner. He wants to extend his life if possible, to share more time with his partner. But as the treatments wear on, Peter and Joan are both worn out by the excess pain and nausea from the chemotherapy drugs. Joan winds up with many bad reactions, and Tom does his best to help her out. But it is obvious that it takes a major toll on them both.
Joan eventually loses her hair, but she deep down inside decides that the illness will not change anything else about her. She and Tom still talk and take long walks in the fresh air. Hospitals are not a fun place to spend time, so tries her hardest to recover. She finally gets to a point when the treatments are over, and the surgeries are done. Joan has gone through a lot, and so has Tom. But they continue to be the closest and the best friend that each other has ever had. Her fellow patient Peter has died, and Tom and Joan attend his funeral. They are sad that he is gone, but relieved that he will no longer suffer.
“Ordinary Love” takes a serious and sometimes deadly subject (cancer) and shows how a strong marriage will not be broken over that event. The screenplay is very naturalist and not showy at all. But the major heavy listing is done by Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville. The acting is superb, and they always appear on screen and display a real depth. They are low-key and honest in every scene. There is pathos in the situation, but they are forever seeing each other in the best possible light. Lesley Manville is crushing as Joan, with her every look and nuance in that roll. She takes in upon herself to portray and be the most open and honest character that she can muster. If this been released closer to the holidays, there would be Oscar talk about her work in this movie. Liam Neeson is also quite a great actor, but the top honors must to Manville.
Perhaps it might seem strange, but I see some common themes between this movie and the one called “50/50” (2011 movie with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogan). That one was firmly in the genre of being more of a comedy, sure. But still the idea of a person stricken with cancer, and how they rely on their best friend… A very good argument could be made that these are very similar.
In the Phoenix area, “Ordinary Love” will open exclusively at the Harkins Camelview Theaters
Directed by: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn
Written by: Owen McCafferty
Starring: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot
Length: 93 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for brief sexuality/nudity