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Review: Ordinary Love

February 21, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Lesley Manville) are an older married couple who share a quiet life together in Ireland, and how they both react in the wake of receiving devastating news is documented in the quietly moving drama Ordinary Love.

They go for walks together and watch TV in the evenings, but things change one night when Joan is in the shower and discovers a lump in one of her breasts. At first, the doctors are hopeful that it is only a cyst, but more tests follow just to be sure, and soon give way to a breast cancer diagnosis.

As Joan comes to terms with having cancer, Tom struggles to accept the fact that his wife might be dying, which causes their relationship to evolve. Their only daughter passed away when she was young, and while the circumstances of her death are never explicitly stated, it’s an event that impacts both of their abilities to process death when faced with their own mortality.

The film is directed by the husband and wife team of Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, and they are working from a screenplay by Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty, who based the story on his own wife’s experiences with breast cancer. I didn’t know this fact before watching Ordinary Love, but I could tell; all of the little details in the film are painstakingly observed in a way that can only really come from personal experience.

Tom and Joan are the primary focus, but the film also makes space for an equally moving subplot involving an older man named Peter (David Wilmot), whom Joan recognizes in the cancer ward. Peter used to teach Tom and Joan’s daughter in primary school, and he is dying of terminal cancer, which his partner Steve (Amit Shah) is struggling to cope with. A touching friendship forms between Joan and Peter as they both undergo chemotherapy, and there is an incredibly moving moment shared between Tom and Steve near the end of the film.

Neeson and Manville both deliver quietly devastating and completely believable performances, and it’s the very ordinariness of Ordinary Love that is precisely what makes it so moving. Tom and Joan bicker and fight like any old married couple would, their arguments giving way to how much they intensely care about each other, and we come to care about them, too. This is ultimately a film about the importance of time, and about the importance of spending quiet and, yes, ordinary moments with the ones you love.

Ordinary Love is now playing in limited release at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto.

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