Movie Review: Neeson, Manville share no “Ordinary Love”

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They still take walks together and still goof around a bit when they do.

Their bickering is more cute bantering, about “When’re you going to take the (Xmas) decorations down?” “When’re YOU gonna take them down?”

“Kid” is his term of endearment for her. “EED-jet” (idiot) is hers for him.

Theirs is the very picture of contented domesticity, of “Ordinary Love.”

But that love could be all on the surface. When any couple faces one of those “ultimate tests,” the fault lines show. Lucky for us this domestic melodrama has Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville to act all that out for it.

It’s a film that begins with lives that have a suburban Northern Ireland intimacy to them — meals, wine, always together. We start to wonder, “Is she retired? Is he?” We see a young woman’s photo in several rooms. Off at school?

Even the “alarm bell” moment has a light, lived-in feel.

“Feel my left breast.”

“Just the one?”

Yes, Joan has felt a lump. Yes, they — emphasis on THEY — need to have it checked out. What follows is standard-issue couple-coping-with-cancer “Lifetime Original Movie” fodder.

Except that it’s a little more than that. The “reveals” may be less revealing than they expected them to be, the heated arguments feel a trifle contrived.

But two wonderful players put this over with warmth, worry and honesty.

American viewers of this Northern Ireland/UK production may be struck, as I was, at the way directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn put the “social” in socialized medicine.

This depiction of National Health Service treatment is both honest — there’s a  shared “prep for mammogram” room that gives the feeling this system is built for efficiency, not privacy — and touching.

Women ask each other about their procedures, joke and comfort one another. Men that Tom (Neeson) runs into at the hospital sing its praises to put him at ease.

There’s a kindness and community here that implies a support system that extends beyond family, when you leave the bottom-line-terror that the insurance industry brings to the equation.

Manville (“Maleficent,” “Mr/ Turner”) has an earthiness that throws the performance’s no-holds-barred scenes into sharp relief.

And Neeson, freed from the straight-jacket that too many action films have slapped on him, gives Tom a stoic, crusty vulnerability that comes out in every line, post-diagnosis.

“How d’you say to someone, ‘Don’t die?'”

Not a lot of new ground is covered here, and not every viewer will embrace the “socialized medicine” subtext that pops up. But “Ordinary Love” quietly celebrates a committed marriage with physical and emotional pain, fear, pity and self-pity testing it.

Maybe that’s because they never have to worry about insurance coverage.

MPAA Rating: R for brief sexuality/nudity.

Cast: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot, Amit Shah.

Credits: Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, script by Owen McCaffrey. A Bleecker Street release.

Running time: 1:32

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