Neeson and Manville are Joan and Tom, a retired Northern Ireland couple whose perfect life is upended when she finds a lump in her breast. Determined to ease his wife’s journey into the medical morass of mammograms, chemotherapy and all the attendant side effects, he is optimistic and supportive. “There isn’t a moment I won’t be there with you,” he says.
From there the film follows Joan’s year-long treatment, from discovery to treatment to double mastectomy and all the emotions that come with a potentially deadly diagnosis. It is the year that will test the stay-at-home couple’s bond like no other. “We’re both going through this,” he says. “No, we’re not!” she says.
There is nothing ordinary about “Ordinary Love.” It is a well-observed slice of life that celebrates the mundane things that make up a life, particularly when trauma comes to town. Never maudlin and always heartfelt, it realistically handles the seven stages of shock—shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance— and even adds in a few others that accompanies a life changer like cancer. Screenwriter Owen McCafferty carefully navigates the story as far away from melodrama as possible to delve into the more elemental emotions of everything from compassion and kindness to resentment and rage.
Neeson and Manville, ably assisted by directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Lyburn, appeal to the audience’s sympathetic tendencies but also mines the humor that arises from the uncomfortable situations.
“Ordinary Love” avoids the pitfalls of many other films that deal with illness. It never shies away from the reality of the situation but finds tenderness in its character’s humanity. After thirty years of marriage they still like one another and it shows. I defy you to watch Tom cut Joan’s hair as it falls out in clumps due to chemotherapy and not feel the warm authenticity of the scene.