There’s a reason so many more movies are about weddings than marriages. It’s easy to tie up a story neatly with bells ringing and happy “I do”s, but it’s much harder to accurately depict the beautifully complicated thing that is a long-term committed relationship. Especially one that’s the kind of real, relatable, warts-and-all relationship many people actually live out. But Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s Ordinary Love accomplishes that feat with intimate grace, thanks to honest storytelling and heartbreaking performances by Liam Neeson and Leslie Manville.
Long-time married couple Tom (Neeson) and Joan (Manville) are living comfortably, used to their routines, when they’re thrown for a loop by Joan’s breast cancer diagnosis. As they navigate a sudden rush of doctors’ appointments and treatment options, they often take their fear and uncertainty out on each other, lashing out just when they need each other the most. And it turns out this isn’t the first tragedy they’ve had to face together, a fact that makes their pain now that much harder to bear — haven’t they suffered enough?
Working from a script by Owen McCafferty, directors Barros D’Sa and Leyburn create an authentic portrait of what it’s like to be caught off guard by a frightening medical prognosis, both for the patient and for those who love and want to support them. Some of Ordinary Love‘s most beautiful moments are those in which Joan and Tom manage to find humor in their new normal, not letting “the big C” stop them from living and laughing.
Neeson and Manville are both excellent, creating fully formed characters who feel authentically flawed and deeply real. Even when Tom and Joan are at their worst, Neeson and Manville make it clear that the two love each other with a kind of unshakability that’s quite extraordinary and extremely moving.– Betsy Bozdech
Team #MOTW’s comments:
Leslie Combemale On the heels of World Cancer Day, which happened on February 4th, the film Ordinary Love is releasing on Valentine’s Day. It is a quiet, sweet, and, at times, difficult film, especially for those who are currently facing a cancer diagnosis or treatment with a loved one. It also deals with the challenges and grief of a lost child. With all that in mind, it has tremendous value, and boasts a cast of Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson, both of whom have repeatedly proven their abilities in projects from epic to intimate. The story is based on personal experience of renowned Irish playwright Owen McCafferty, who wrote the script. Ordinary Love isn’t a ‘cancer story’, it’s a love story, and it examines the minutia of daily life between longterm partners who truly love and respect each other. For anyone who either looks to have a shared life, or has already been in a committed relationship for some time, there will be some aspect of it that resonates. Even for younger viewers, there is an authenticity vibrating from the screen that they will yearn for in their own lives, regardless of what challenges they might encounter. A film that never devolves into maudlin or sentimental territory, it captures a great, but quite ordinary love, perfectly.
MaryAnn Johanson Ordinary Love is of that subgenre of dramas we could call The Cancer Movie. But this is not a horror story. It’s not remotely scary, though we do worry deeply about its protagonists. It’s funny, moving, hopeful, and buoyant. It’s the sort of story that’s all, Hey, if you have to get cancer, here’s how to get through it. Read full review.
Pam Grady: Two actors at the top of their game, Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville, dive deep under the skins of a long-married couple facing an uncertain future in a film that is both a moving portrait of a relationship and a rich evocation of everyday life under almost unbearable stress. Frequent Mike Leigh collaborator Manville (Topsy-Turvy, Another Year) is pitch-perfect as a woman facing a breast cancer diagnosis and its horrifying attendant treatment—a no-nonsense woman determined to take things as they come but sometimes overwhelmed by her illness. Neeson, stepping away from the tough-guy action heroes that have dominated the last dozen years or so of his career, reminds us of what he is capable of when given a character to play who possesses real emotional depth. He is outstanding as a man devoted to his wife who nevertheless acts out his helplessness in frustration and resentment against her. The title may be Ordinary Love, but Manville and Leeson together create something extraordinary.
Nell Minow: This touching, beautifully observed story shows us that love is never ordinary as a long-time couple try to find a way to support each other when the wife gets breast cancer. Lesley Manville gives an performance of exquisite sensitivity.
Sheila Roberts An ordinary couple faces extraordinary challenges in Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s moving drama, Ordinary Love. It’s an intimate, thoughtful portrait of a loving husband (Liam Neeson) and wife (Lesley Manville), who have been together for years and are confident and comfortable in their relationship, and suddenly have to deal with her breast cancer diagnosis. Read full review.
Jennifer Merin Filmmakers Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s Ordinary Love is a poignant drama starring Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville as husband and wife in a lovingly comfortable marriage that undergoes a dramatic change when she is diagnosed with cancer. The film is beautifully crafted, perfectly paced and has an authenticity that is deeply affecting. The performances are, simply put, stunning. Ordinary Love is, simply put, extraordinary.
Loren King Lesley Manville deserves every accolade out there. The veteran British stage and television actress has been featured in nine films directed by Mike Leigh including her high-wire performance as lonely, alcoholic, deluded Mary in Another Year (2011), arguably her best among many great roles. There’s lots of competition. Manville now has earned legions of fans for her starring role in the popular BBC sitcom Mum about recently widowed, suburban Cathy and her family. In 2011, she earned the supporting actress Oscar nomination that she should have gotten for Another Year when she went toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, playing Reynolds Woodcock’s quietly powerful sister and business partner, Cyril. Manville’s chilly line “Don’t pick a fight with me; you certainly won’t come out alive,” spoken with a teacup poised at her lips, has gone down as one of the great retorts in modern cinema. Manville’s latest film, Ordinary Love, further establishes her as one of the greatest actresses working today. Playing an “ordinary” middle-aged married woman, Joan, opposite Liam Neeson as her solid and loving husband, Manville masterfully portrays the complex range of emotions when Joan is diagnosed with and then treated for breast cancer. It’s a deceptively simple film about the profound uncertainty and frailty of living, and the loneliness of suddenly facing mortality even with a supportive partner. There is nothing ordinary about this film or the gifted actress who anchors it.
Liz Whittemore Having gone through testing for breast cancer at age 28; the exam, the mammogram, the biopsy, I can attest to the anxiety of waiting for results. It was one of the most frightening experiences in my life. I consider myself lucky to have had a negative result. That loneliness I felt in those moments are perfectly mirrored (and then some) in Ordinary Love. Cancer and all that comes with it is not truly a shared experience. Like anything else, unless you go through it yourself, it’s impossible to adequately express the fear, pain, and anguish. Ordinary Love illustrates how illness affects a relationship. Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn do a beautiful job of portraying the differences in communication between husband and wife. The editing is incredibly thoughtful, driving a narrative that is all too familiar to so many families. Owen McCafferty’s screenplay is gorgeous. The dialogue is real. It’s what makes the film so genuine. The silent moments are elegantly scored and incredibly intimate. Liam Neeson is as lovely as ever. Honest, funny, heartfelt, I cannot imagine anyone else in this role now. Our leading lady, Leslie Manville is every woman. Her physicality is astonishing. Her grief is visceral. She is extraordinary. This film is a human experience. Not a single viewer can escape the reach of cancer. Ordinary Love is everyone’s story in one way or another.
Tom and Joan have been together for years and their relationship has been full of ups and downs. They’ve fallen into an easy, comfortable routine but when Joan finds a lump, cracks begin to show. While directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s Ordinary Love could turn into an overly dramatic “relationship in crisis” film, it instead develops into a deeply tender and realistic story of two people who love each other, but who are dealing with a terrible illness. It’s messy, ugly, sometimes hurtful but in the end, Ordinary Love champions resilience, survival and a connection that is anything but ordinary. A wonderfully tender and real story of love anchored by outstanding performances from Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville. Also, f*ck cancer.
Susan Wloszczyna: In the film Ordinary Love, Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson are Joan and Tom, a comfy and cozy British middle-aged couple, the type who keep their holiday decorations up a bit longer than they should and who enjoy teasing one another on their regular walks. Then one day she finds a lump in her arm pit area and soon learns that she has her breast cancer. As directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, this is not one of those tales of medical adversity filled melodramatic breakdowns and screaming fits of agony. Instead, the well-paired actors immerse themselves in the script’s quiet yet intimate moments of trying to hang on to what is positive in their lives. We casually learn they previously suffered an earlier tragedy in their lives and somehow got through it – and we know despite moments of pain and worry that these two will get through this as well. Two of my favorite scenes? Neeson, who at age 67 is still action-hero ready, breaks down when his goldfish dies while Manville is away getting her chemo treatment. The other is when he lovingly cuts her hair and then shaves whatever she has left on her head. The rhythms of their life together have been interrupted but somehow they endure – mostly because they are forever bonded together by the good and the bad that they have experienced side by side.
Cate Marquis Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville give touching and 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. Joan (Manville) is the health-conscious one of the couple, with Tom playfully 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. When Joan is given a cancer diagnosis, Tom is determined to be there but the journey is rockier than either expect, challenging even their durable bond. Further, Joan and Tom seem very much alone in this road, having lost their only child, a daughter, some years earlier. The two directors have crafted the kind of fine, intimate human drama one expects from the great Mike Leigh, with warm, believable and brave performances from both, particularly Manville. If one has to got through this kind of ordeal, this is the kind of “ordinary love” one would hope to have to lean on.
Title: Ordinary Love
Directors: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn
Stars: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville
Release Date: February 14, 2020
Running Time: 92 minutes
Distribution Company: Bleecker Street Media
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Nikki Baughan, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Pam Grady, MaryAnn Johanson, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna
Edited by Jennifer Merin