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  Ali & Ava Good Together
Year: 2021
Director: Clio Barnard
Stars: Adeel Aktar, Claire Rushbrook, Ellora Torchia, Shaun Thomas, Natalie Gavin, Mona Goodwin, Krupa Pattani, Vinny Dhillon, Tasha Connor, Macy Shackleton, Ariana Bodorova, Sarlota Nagyova, Sienna Afsar, Uzair Ali, Abid Yaqoob, Rashid Hussain
Genre: Comedy, Drama, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two people in Bradford, England, are about to meet. One is Ali (Adeel Aktar), a landlord who is perhaps too much of a soft touch to truly succeed in his profession, but he wants to be liked, and his tenants certainly do that. Meanwhile Ava (Claire Rushbrook) is a classroom teaching assistant who helps out with the more troubled children, guiding them in anything from reading to negotiating a climbing frame in the primary school playground. That's how Ali and Ava meet, thanks to a little girl who is the daughter of one of his clients who he has taken to school one morning, but their friendship may hit some obstacles...

The basic trend of romantic comedies down the years is that while it is a miracle anyone gets together and falls in love, miracles do happen. Writer and director Clio Barnard adhered to this theme for her hard-edged but kind-hearted comedy drama, with the result that she created her best, most accessible film, one that may not have completely transferred over to the mainstream from the arthouse, but stuck to a template a lot more recognisable than some of her harsher social realist efforts. She was assisted by two immensely sympathetic performances at the centre of a morass of expectations and prejudices.

Aktar and Rushbrook were as close as you can get to veterans of the acting game at their respective ages, so they knew what they were doing, but nevertheless it was a pleasure to watch them interact with the other cast and each other in a manner that spoke volumes without having to spell every nuance out. Every so often there would be a new, quiet revelation about what they had been through to reach this point, and as they were both middle-aged there was going to be the anticipated baggage there, but given the cheery surface they projected to the wider world, it was a melancholy streak that shot straight through the plot.

A signature scene for Ali is when he is giving Ava a lift home in his car, and it's a rough neighbourhood she lives in which means as they near her house, a bunch of near-feral kids throw stones at Ali's car. He stops, they get out and start shouting, then he turns up his music and they start dancing; and then, ridiculously, they all pile into his car and he gives them an impromptu joyride around the estate. It's such a disarming sight that it gets us on Ali's side almost immediately: is he really just this puppyish big kid at heart, or is there more depth to him than that? Well, there is depth to him, and to Ava too, as they both have tragedy in their backgrounds that have coloured their perceptions and made them wary to branch out on new paths in life.

Don't get them wrong, they're able to function, unlike some in this film, but we know they are right for each other in a way that Ava and her late husband were not, and Ali and his current wife are not as the implication is that after their major marriage setback, she has realised she is too young for him, and that he, ironically, is too immature for her. The issues that everyone brings with them are not something we share with strangers or casual acquaintances since it makes us look as if we are pleading for empathy, and that neediness can make many try to get as far away from you as possible, especially when there are plenty of problems of their own they have deal with. But with Ali & Ava, we were permitted to see what would happen if someone who let everyone in got along with someone at least optimistic that things can always get better. Barnard used music to see into her characters' souls here, and it was very effective, but even more was the power of accepting that whatever society is frowning or tutting at this minute, you don't have to let it ruin your day. You just have to cope a little better. Music by Harry Escott (and the needle drops are not what you'd expect).

[ALI & AVA WILL BE RELEASED IN UK & IRISH CINEMAS ON 4 MARCH 2022.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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