Monday 27 January 2020

Film of the week: Ordinary Love

Cert: 12A; Now showing

Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville both put in excellent performances in 'Ordinary Love'
Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville both put in excellent performances in 'Ordinary Love'
Samuel Bottomley, Michiel Huisman and Niamh Algar in 'The Last Right'
Ed Norton in Motherless Brooklyn

Co-directors Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's great 2013 film, Good Vibrations, was underseen. This film shares the greatness and the Belfast setting - but in other ways could barely be more different, and with bigger-name leads should reach a wider audience.

Owen McCafferty's screenplay is about something that affects so many people and the film treats it honestly and movingly - and while I did go in braced for sadness, that is not what I came out feeling.

Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) are starting the new year as they mean to go on, with Fitbits and walks. Their easy and affectionate back-and-forth is testimony to life and love together. But when Joan discovers a lump in her breast, their future seems instantly less simple.

The bond between the couple is very well established; from arguing over beer intake and Brussels sprouts, it's convincing, and the actors have great chemistry so the stresses of major illness on even the strongest relationship become clear. This, it turns out, is not the first storm that they have weathered yet still it causes friction. At one point they argue in traffic, and Tom says, "We're both going through this," to which she replies angrily, "No, we're not."

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The story looks at the different ways different parties cope: those with the illness, their partners, men, women, different personalities. Coping strategies can vary greatly and that can sometimes be a source of conflict.

It's hard not to be affected by seeing the usual action hero Neeson flail when he cannot save the day but has to keep on a brave face in front of his wife. For her part Joan sometimes prefers the company of other patients and strikes up a friendship with fellow chemo recipient Peter (David Wilmot).

It's a difficult subject really well dealt with and it avoids straying into mawkishness. All the performances are really, really good but Manville is the action hero in this case. It perhaps sounds more depressing than it is - there are moments of humour and it is a love story. It might be a little triggering for some people, but it might be cathartic for others.

★★★★★ Aine O'Connor

The Last Right

Cert: 15A; Now showing

Samuel Bottomley, Michiel Huisman and Niamh Algar in 'The Last Right'

Irish New Yorker Daniel Murphy (Michiel Huisman) gets talking on his flight back to Ireland to a lonely old-timer, who proceeds to die mid-journey.

On top of that, he's put Daniel down as next of kin on his immigration slip, lumping him with funeral arrangements.

Further complication is added when he gets to Cork and his autistic brother Louis (Samuel Bottomley) refuses to return with him to NYC - unless, that is, they drive the corpse of Daniel's late acquaintance to Rathlin Island. Tagging along is funeral home worker Mary (Niamh Algar), who has business en route.

There is a slipshod charm about Aoife Crehan's debut. Huisman is the glue that holds the mayhem of this road movie together (complete with Colm Meaney's fist-waving garda detective on their trail), but the more tender moments are also nicely judged. In its favour too is a warming home-for-Christmas vibe that we're suckers for in this country.

★★★★ Hilary A White

Honey Boy

Cert: 15A; Now showing 

Therapy often brings a need to explain. This is why I did what I did. Actor Shia LaBeouf has had some run-ins with the law and his autobiographical story, directed by Alma Har'el, feels like that need to explain. He wrote it as part of his own rehab programme. It could sound self-indulgent, but it isn't.

It is a neat film, a good length, it does what it sets out to do, and, far from being self-indulgent, its scope is surprisingly broad. It's also a kinder film than it might have been.

In 2005, actor Otis Lort (Lucas Hedges) is in rehab following a drunken run-in with the law. He refuses to engage with his therapist (Laura San Giacomo) but it's that or jail. He goes back to his days as a child actor (played by Noah Jupe) and the difficult relationship with his father James (Shia LaBeouf) whom he employed as his onset chaperone and whose parenting style was unusual.

Therapy also leads to understanding rather than blame and that is what elevates this. The film shows that a child, no matter how worldly they can seem, can only process things as a child. But it also avoids demonising the father character, and in the circumstances that would have been easy enough to do. Fans of thinky-feely films should enjoy this.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor


Motherless Brooklyn

Cert: 15A; Now showing 

Ed Norton in Motherless Brooklyn

Edward Norton has been planning to bring Jonathan Lethem's novel Motherless Brooklyn to the big screen since he read it. Two decades on and his passion project - he wrote, directed and stars - is flawed but enjoyable.

Norton's screenplay has moved the action from the 1990s to the 1950s, making it almost inevitably noir in style. Lionel Essrog (Norton) is a private detective with Tourette's whose friend and mentor (Bruce Willis) is killed early in the film, the remaining two and a half hours of which involve Lionel working out why, and by whom. It involves the clever and beautiful Laura (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a strange disenchanted man (Willem Dafoe) and a corrupt megalomaniac (Alec Baldwin). Apparently similarities to any other corrupt megalomaniac Baldwin might have played are almost accidental. The film lacks suspense, the reveal is underwhelming, but it's atmospheric and the corruption theme relevant.

★★★ Aine O'Connor


So Long, My Son

Cert: 12A; Selected cinemas 

With a running time of 185 minutes, it is difficult not to make a joke about the title of this Chinese family drama. It is bloody long. It is a bit too long, but it is also fabulous.

Early on we are shown, mostly in long-distance and tracking shots, the death of a young boy. In a series of non-chronological flashbacks, the film paints the story beginning in 1980s and still very communist China as two young couples have baby boys on the same day. They all work in the same factory and live in the same government housing, and their sons are best friends. Then one of the boys, Xingxing, drowns.

The present-day end of the story has his parents Liyun (Mei Yong) and Yaojun (Wang Jingchun) in a different city with a different son, also called Xingxing. The film fills in the years and then starts to tell the story in present time. It references the one-child policy and what that meant in practical terms; it shows that good communists made good capitalists later. Ambition is ambition. In an otherwise excellent piece of work, director Wang Xiaoshuai holds too many scenes for too long, which cumulatively make it feel too long. But it is otherwise a sweeping, moving, intensely human story with amazing leads which I enjoyed very much.

★★★★ Aine O'Connor

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