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NEESON GETS TENDER; but "ORDINARY LOVE" IS MANVILLE'S MOVIE

* * * (out of four)

Most folks who decide to stream “Ordinary Love” will do so because it features Liam Neeson in a rare non-action role. And indeed, the 67-year-old tough guy is excellent as a loving husband whose wife has breast cancer.

But the real star here is Lesley Manville.

Though she has an impressive resume including “Another Year,” “The Phantom Thread” and the second “Maleficent” movie, Manville -- now 64 -- is not nearly as well known as her popular co-star; but she’s certainly the best thing in this simple, straightforward story that is by turns painful, humorous and inspiring.

She and Neeson play a long-married Irish couple (Joan and Tom), who are quietly enjoying late middle age despite ongoing grief over the loss their only child many years ago. “Ordinary Love” follows them step by step through their arduous journey -- from discovery of a suspicious lump to testing, hope, fear, diagnosis, chemotherapy and eventually a double mastectomy.

“Ordinary” is the key idea, as the film is utterly without the histrionics, excess sentiment or emotional manipulation that tend to plague films about serious illness. The dialog is spare and the scenes are intensely realistic, with Tom doing his best to support Joan even as her suffering (and his pain in watching it) do eventually generate at least one very raw quarrel. The spartan plot is leavened by unexpected friendship with Peter, whom they meet at the hospital; together with his young male partner, he is fighting his way through a terminal prognosis.

Yet the title’s second word is equally appropriate for this chronicle of deeply touching dedication. It’s heartening to see a genuine love story about older people, especially two whose strong romantic passion still undergirds the usual squabbles, small talk, quiet meals and long walks.

When, for example, was the last time you saw any kind of truly erotic sex scene between two people who’ve been married more than 30 years? Maybe never, am I right?

Yet “Ordinary Love” has two such scenes, both of which are short and tasteful. I should point out that the second one does feature some nudity -- earning the film its R rating. But this hardly feels gratuitous, since it briefly shows the anatomical subject of the entire storyline -- which will both be removed the very next day.

In any case, unlike many of Neeson’s recent films, “Ordinary People” is not just a vehicle for his compelling blend of guts and vulnerability. Rather, it’s a story of courage, compassion and strength in the midst of a struggle portrayed with unflinching honesty and realism.

Pretty timely stuff.

“Ordinary Love,”

directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa & Glenn Leyburn

Run time: 92 min.

Rated R for sexuality and nudity

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