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Five Cent Cine: Ordinary Love

"Love in the time of cancer"

It’s hard to know what Irish directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn—neither of them well known—had in mind in making “Ordinary Love” with the extraordinarily well-known Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville.  On the one hand, it’s a remarkably authentic story of the sort of “ordinary love” that inhabits the relationships of many couples, perhaps especially older ones: a deep understanding and (for the most part) tolerance of the other’s likes and dislikes, habits and foibles; a friendly, even playful physicality, with lots of handholding and occasional sex.

On the other hand, much of the film resembles an episode of “General Hospital” or a Hallmark made-for-TV movie about breast cancer, a disease that upends the quotidian existence of Joan (Manville) and Tom (Neeson). We see Joan get a mammogram (left arm up and over), an ultrasound, a CAT scan, a body scan (dolly sliding in and out) and chemotherapy, then watch her vomit. We see Tom biding time in anxious boredom (you would think he’d bring a book) in various waiting rooms and green hospital cafeterias. By the time Joan is scheduled for a double mastectomy, we know enough about her lump and lymph nodes to play doctor, to wonder if she should have the procedure.

As expected, both Joan and Tom lose their resilience as the process runs its course.

The medical stuff is apparently designed to suggest and reveal what happens when a solid, affectionate, loving marriage—albeit somewhat patterned and isolated (their only child has died)—is subject to the stress of a serious illness. As expected, both Joan and Tom lose their resilience as the process runs its course. They argue in the car on the way to yet another medical appointment. They disagree about how much Tom should participate in discussions with physicians. Chemotherapy at once brings them together (a tender and powerful head-shaving scene) and tears them apart (an argument over pills). At one point, they stop holding hands on the regular walks, through a sunless Belfast, that chart their changing relationship. It’s not unexpected, either, that Joan will seek to alleviate her isolation—to share her pain with another in similar circumstances, in this case Peter (David Wilmot), a gay man with terminal cancer.

Chemotherapy at once brings them together (a tender and powerful head-shaving scene) and tears them apart (an argument over pills).

Some will find the superb performances by Neeson and Manville and their nuanced relationship reason enough to see the film, but those who do will have to tolerate more than half of the 90 minutes watching what is otherwise a dreary, heavy-handed and over-determined project. Does one need to be bored in a film to feel boredom? Do we really need to see Joan and Tom—not once but several times—in doubled silhouette over breakfast, drawing attention to their isolation? Does anyone ever turn on a light in their home? Why do these nice people have no friends? Must the goldfish die? Will metaphors never cease?


2 1/2 stars out of four stars

Showing at The Amherst

Directors: Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn

Starring: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot

Runtime: 92 minutes

Also see reviews on…

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Uncut Gems

Les Misérables

The Last Black Man in San Francisco



Little Women

Marriage Story

Queen & Slim

The Irishman


Cold Brook

Jojo Rabbit

Pain & Glory ( Dolor y Gloria)



Downton Abbey

Ad Astra

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

The Goldfinch

Good Boys

Written by 2 Film Critics

2 Film Critics

William Graebner is Emeritus Professor of History, State University of New York, Fredonia, where he taught courses on film and American culture. He is the author or co-author of 11 books and more than 50 scholarly articles, including essays on “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “McCabe and Mrs. Miller,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” and zombie films as they relate to the Holocaust. Dianne Bennett, the first woman to head a large U.S. law firm, is a retired U.S. tax lawyer.

Dianne and Bill were early and passionate attendees at the Toronto Film Festival, and today enjoy the film scenes of Los Angeles, Rome, London, and Buffalo, New York. They began reviewing films for the Rome-based website “TheAmerican/inItalia” in 2016, have maintained a blog on Rome for a decade, and published two alternative guidebooks to the Eternal City. They still can’t resist going to the movies, not to mention the ensuing discussions, sometimes heated, over a bottle of Arneis at the nearest wine bar.

​And that's just the beginning of our reviewing process. For one or two hours we discuss the film, as one of us takes notes. The notetaker transcribes the notes and prints two copies. Dianne or Bill (usually depending on who had the most compelling understanding of the film, or who was most taken with it) writes the first draft of the review--supposedly taking into account the views of the other--which is followed by 3, 4, or even 7 more drafts. At some point, sometimes days later, when we're both comfortable with the result (or accepting of it, anyway), it's done.

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