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Movie review: Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson give potent, star performances in 'Ordinary Love'

Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

It's a paradox of films dealing with devastating illness -- a cadre in which the newly released "Ordinary Love" is definitely included -- that they're at their best when they are the hardest to take.

The gold standard for that category is Michael Haneke's pitiless 2012 Oscar winner "Amour," a once-seen-never-forgotten film starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, which details what happens to a lifelong marriage when the wife suffers a series of debilitating strokes.

As directed by Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn, "Ordinary Love" is not in that league (nothing else is, either), but it shares the benefit of having a pair of superb performers as stars, in this case taking us through a year in the life of a harmonious couple dealing with a wife's diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer.

While Liam Neeson, playing husband Tom, is the bigger name courtesy of his berserker heroics in the "Taken" series, "Ordinary Love" is grounded in the great gifts of his costar Lesley Manville as wife Joan.

Oscar-nominated for Paul Thomas Anderson's "Phantom Thread" but best known for her extensive work for director Mike Leigh, Manville is all-in here, alternating between fragility and strength as she finds ways to wordlessly express emotions one might have thought were inexpressible.

A first screenplay by veteran British playwright Owen McCafferty and set in Northern Ireland, "Ordinary Love" is based partly on experiences he and his wife went through.

 

The film starts with Tom and Joan as a companionable couple who like nothing better than matching each other stride for stride in exercise walks and then genially teasing each other about their mutual foibles.

Though they'd never met until both were considered for these parts, Manville and Neeson (who seems truly pleased not to be playing someone with revenge on his mind) are such accomplished performers we believe them as a married couple of long duration.

Still, these scenes of contentment have a pro forma quality about them, the kind of calm before the storm that is inevitable in a film about the onset of medical calamity.

Things start to go bad when Joan discovers a lump in her left breast, goes to see her doctor and is sent to the hospital for a series of tests and procedures matter-of-factly depicted in Piers McGrail's cool cinematography.

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