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Review: Low-key 'Ordinary Love' hits subtle high notes

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

A stream of riveting reality runs through “Ordinary Love,” a mix of awkwardness and ease, burden and uplift, pain and pleasantries. This is a movie about resignation and perseverance and the non-showy essence of life and love. 

It revolves almost completely around Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Lesley Manville), a 60-something couple with a relaxed, bantering, middle-class life. Within the film’s first 10 minutes Joan discovers a lump in one of her breasts. 

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in "Ordinary Love."

Things get less relaxed, but never hysterical or overly weepy. A visit to the doctor, some tests and yes, it’s breast cancer. Surgery, then chemotherapy. The doctors are kind but won’t — probably can’t — speak plainly as to what the future holds. Uncertainty hovers over everything. 

Some hints of past life emerge. They had a daughter but she’s died. After her death both Tom and Joan sort of retired from life. They’ve still got each other and that’s enough, but for how long? 

Directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn linger perfectly on the normal – a hallway, a waiting room, construction going up and coming down along the road where Tom and Joan walk daily, turning around to head home at the same tree each time. 

Bantering becomes a bit more like bickering as the chemo sickens Joan, and fear and resentment do take over in an ugly flash. But these people are indeed in love. Not the gooey romcom kind, the kind that comes with time and experience. They will endure… they hope. 

It’s nice to see Neeson in something this subtle, and he plays an appropriately terrified anchor. But it’s Manville’s tragedy, after all, and her Joan manages to be confused, scared and brave all at once in a low-key searingly human turn. Oh that all love could be this ordinary.   

'Ordinary Love' 

GRADE: B+ 

Rated R for brief sexuality/nudity 

Running time: 92 minutes