Courtesy of Bleecker Street
Earning a much needed break from kicking butt and taking names, Liam Neeson is finally showing his softer side. I think some forget that Neeson carried the emotional heft of “Schindler’s List” and melted our hearts in “Love, Actually.” In “Ordinary Love,” which he stars alongside Lesley Manville who turns in a stirring performance, Neeson reminds audiences about his emotional range as an actor, and it’s refreshing.
The narrative isn’t exactly bursting with urgency or sparkles with charm: it’s about a married couple coming to terms with an illness out of their control. Owen McCafferty’s script does have a sense of poignancy and understanding as it follows every step of a breast cancer diagnosis from when Joan (Manville) discovers a lump in her breast to her initial biopsy and, finally, her chemotherapy and numerous surgeries.
In that regard, “Ordinary Love” feels authentic and seems to be coming from a place of factual evidence. When the doctors begin laying out a treatment plan for Joan, you believe every word they say. And each of the hospital visits (of which there are many) feel like personal odysseys, broken up by brief moments of fellowship with other cancer patients undergoing the same treatments. Anyone who's been down this path before will likely marvel at the attention to detail that’s been peppered throughout the picture as McCafferty’s endgame is to take the viewer through each stage of the breast cancer process, and he mostly succeeds on that front even if the rest of the film is borderline dull and predictable.
Thankfully, “Ordinary Love” is anchored by Neeson and Manville’s chemistry, but at times their screen presence isn’t enough to save the mundane undertones throughout the picture. One could argue McCafferty’s commitment to such realism, makes for a rather cold viewing experience. There’s a subplot thrown in about the couple’s child who died from reasons unknown to us and it only packs on the depression. You can tell that McCafferty has a background in playwriting because the intimate two hander sequences are heavy on wordy dialogue. It doesn’t help that directors Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn bring little to the table in terms of visual aesthetic as “Ordinary Love” doesn’t just feel bleak, it looks bleak too.
And perhaps that’s the point. Maybe D’Sa and Leyburn purposely rested the movie on Neeson and Manville’s shoulders and didn’t focus much on anything else because they knew who they were working with. And that’s the film's greatest strength: understanding when the action needs to halt so Neeson and Manville have the opportunity to appreciate the other. Sure it’s a powerful sentiment that keeps the characters from being bland and, well, ordinary, but considering the type of pedigree involved on all fronts, part of me wishes “Ordinary Love” had something more to offer.
ORDINARY LOVE is currently playing in limited release. It opens Friday February 28th at the Main Art in Detroit.