Director: Lisa Barros D’Sa & Glenn Leyburn
Writer: Owen McCafferty
Starring: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot
Despite encountering a previous tragedy, Joan (Manville) and Tom (Neeson) have been happily married for many years, however when Joan is unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer the course of her treatment pushes their relationship and commitment to one another to the limit.
Whether it is the trailer, the plot or the title, sometimes it is abundantly clear what kind of film is ahead (this can be of course a good or a bad thing), and indeed it is obvious from the trailer, plot and title what kind of film Ordinary Love is going to be before watching. In this case this is however very much a good thing, as what forms the very foundation of the film’s narrative is the ‘ordinary’ love that is shared between its two protagonists. Of the course words like ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ are very much subjective, but what many would consider to be the day to day life of a couple that have been married for a long time and who have a ‘normal’ relationship generally will not create particularly gripping drama. As with so many scenes in Ordinary Love, most of the couple’s life will consist of sitting on the sofa watching TV, going for walks together and having seemingly trivial conversations that involve meaningless bickering about soup, tomato juice, what colour wheelie bin is going out and whether they are buying more brussels sprouts than what they actually need. However, this fits perfectly with what the film is trying to depict, and it does do it very well; we very much believe in these characters and their relationship and devotion that they have for one another, as they all feel completely authentic. So, when the inevitable does happen quite early within the narrative we cannot help but genuinely care about them.
From the performances, to the script and how the film is made, throughout the narrative everything is very much understated, and from start to finish all involved maintain this with a skilful consistency that makes Ordinary Love quietly powerful. Though some of the narrative developments are less than subtle and the introduction of two additional characters is a little too clichéd, Ordinary Love does stick to the premise of its own title very diligently. It is in the supposedly ‘ordinary’ nature of the relationship between its two protagonists that make it so powerful and engaging. Inevitably the extreme stress of Joan having to go back and forth to the hospital for chemotherapy does place an understandable strain on hers and Tom’s relationship, but this always feels in tune with the rest of the narrative.
Ordinary Love is also surprisingly cinematic; for me a film doesn’t have to just have extended sweeping tracking shots of dramatic landscapes to be cinematic, but also demonstrate directors making full use of the fact that cinema is a visual medium. Lisa Barros D’Sa & Glenn Leyburn make a powerful use of the film’s two main locations (the family home and the hospital); with a use of much more close-up shots in the house (and often some extremely effective shots of the unpopulated house while the couple are at the hospital) while the shots in the hospital are often more expansive (especially when in waiting rooms). Likewise, there is a visual motif involving a tree that is at the end of a walk that the couple take together at various stages in the narrative, but also the couple’s body language during the individual walks. The visuals are of course never over done, and as with every aspect of the film (such as the suitably melancholic, but subtle score) they are kept suitably simple and understated, and in doing so are very effective. What the couple encounter could have of course happen to anyone (and tragically is experienced by many people on a daily basis), and it is this grounding that makes it such an effective and deeply moving film. The film does stay very matter of fact, and rarely resorts to over the top melodrama, and actually emerges all the more engaging and powerful for it.
Of course, another variable at the disposal of a film director is to adopt the classic ‘show don’t tell’ approach, and often through body language, expression and line delivery Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville do portray perfectly both each characters undeniable love and devotion for one another, but also the quiet defiance that they deal with both a previous tragedy and the completely life-changing event that they experience during the narrative. They both give extraordinary performances that make every line of Owen McCafferty’s appropriately naturalistic script count. When they have their minor squabbles (that out of context may seem like something far more serious), the natural chemistry that the two actors share combined with their perfect delivery depict perfectly a couple that of course do have their differences, but have learnt to deal with it and have a deep understanding of one another.
Though of course Ordinary Love is predominantly a melancholic film, it is also often very funny. The seemingly meaningless bickering conversations that the couple share are often quite funny; though they certainly never undermine the seriousness what happens, but the fact that they are relatable and completely believable that does certainly enhance how funny they are. There are certainly inevitable comparisons to make to Michael Haneke’s incredible Amour as both films are about exactly what their respective name suggests, though they are stylistically different. However, the main comparison for me between the two films is that while Amour stayed with me for a very long time, Ordinary Love just will not. I would not want Ordinary Love to necessarily do anything different (even though it does resort to the occasional cliché, such as introducing a couple of extra characters that feel like they are just there solely to fulfil narrative roles) and though while watching I believed in the characters and cared about them, once finished it just didn’t stay with me at all like a truly great film would, but maybe that just says more about me than the film itself.
A film that proves less can certainly be more; Ordinary Love is a film that is essentially just about exactly what its title suggests, in doing so is one that is often profoundly moving and deeply engaging.