Ordinary Love review: the new film from the directors of Good Vibrations

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Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson lead the terrific Ordinary Love – and here’s our review.

The last film directing duo Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn made was Good Vibrations, the 2012 chronicle of the life of Terri Hooley, a record-store owner who was instrumental in developing Belfast’s punk-rock scene. A criminally underseen movie, it beautifully balanced comedy and drama during the time of the Troubles, when music counters the darkness affecting the city. Seven years later, we have Ordinary Love, a film that seems completely different yet isn’t really.

Inspired by his own personal experience, Owen McCafferty, the film’s writer, has written a film that also beautifully captures comedy during tragedy, following the life of middle-aged couple Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Lesley Manville) when she receives a diagnosis of breast cancer. What McCafferty’s script does superbly is place the characters first, what is happening to them second. This is not a cancer movie. It’s not packed full of melodrama and high-stakes drama. It’s a love story, about a couple where one of them happens to be battling cancer. It’s an intimate look at two people who have been married for so long they really wouldn’t know what to do without each other. They have their routines, rituals and understand each other better than they understand themselves. They’re remarkable for how unremarkable they are, they are just Normal People – which was originally going to be the film’s title until Sally Rooney’s second novel took the world by storm in 2018.

In some ways, title-wise, that feels like a blessing in disguise as Ordinary Love is an appropriate moniker for the film. The relationship that is depicted is exceptionally believable, told with surface and depth, light and shade. They both have their quirks and idiosyncrasies. They laugh with each other and at each other. Sometimes they annoy each other and don’t particularly like the other, yet they always love each other. This could only occur with a perfect pairing, both in terms of the leads – Manville and Neeson both provide exquisite performances – and with script and tone. Quietly intense, powerfully honest. A love and a film that feels lived in – just so ordinary that it’s really rather extraordinary.

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