Directors: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn
Starring: Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson
Writer: Owen McCafferty
For many people, finding a partner to experience life with would be a privilege and joy. But what happens when life is interrupted with unexpected tragedy and/or illness- disrupting all tranquility and routine? In Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s romantic drama Ordinary Love, Tom (Liam Neeson, Widows 2018) and Joan (Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread 2017) are forced to answer these questions. After Joan is unexpectedly diagnosed with breast cancer, she must find a way to survive just as her relationship with Tom takes on new challenges.
Hollywood is no stranger to sharing the frustrations and pains associated with being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing the corresponding surgeries and/or treatment. This time around, there’s a sweet yet affecting approach to how directors D’Sa and Leyburn show the fight for survival. Tom and Joan are a retired couple who’s seen their fair share of life’s ups and downs. But their love has been able to withstand such successions. Over the years, they’ve developed a structured routine in both conversation and everyday living. From their daily walks through the city and around their favorite pole, to the playful banter at the table during dinner. But nothing could have prepared them for the unforeseen.
As Joan and Tom are faced with the challenges that come with breast cancer, they question whether or not their ordinary love can withstand the hardship. Little things like not wanting her dead daughter to know [of the cancer] and pondering life after death run all too imminently in Joan’s mind. As Lesley Manville conveys these concerns on screen, it’ll be hard not to think of your own mortality, especially because she portrays them with such devastating conviction. Furthermore, D’sa and Leyburn don’t shy away from showing the rare good, the frequent ugly and the total desolation brought on by such a diagnosis. It’s such an honest portrayal that audiences will genuinely appreciate.
Tom, an advocate of healthy living and one too witty for his own good, is compelled to experience his own emotions in isolation, on the other hand. In that regard, Liam gives an incredibly nuanced and restrained performance- one demanding great sympathy. It’s difficult to imagine what your own reaction would be in such a circumstance. Yet with their respective performances, Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville make it easy to relate. Together, they are the perfect match as their characters partake in their playful bickering one minute, to the tears and trauma the next.
As the characters navigate through their feelings and strengths, D’sa and Leyburn asks the audience to join them in their quest. There are many points in the film that require viewers to digest the tragedy just as it is being shown – raw, unpleasant and truly heartbreaking, which will generate tears throughout the feature. But the best part of it all is that it’s such an honest and overwhelming portrayal, and nothing is ever forced or phony. There are certainly moments of tear-jerking clichés, but Ordinary Love does an exceptional job of making it feel personal and close to home even if you’re unfamiliar with such a terrible circumstance.
The greatest loves are ones that stand the test of time through the trials and tribulations of life. D’sa and Leyburn’s feature is exemplary in showing this. With pivotal acting from the film’s two leads (Manville & Neeson), Ordinary Love is far from your traditional romantic drama centered around devastation. The film has a way of showing how even the fight for survival can be beautiful when you have love to see it through.