Ali & Ava (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): A little romance in the middle of their life

“Ali & Ava” is a little intimate drama about one accidental romantic relationship between two different people. While it is rather predictable in terms of story and characters, the movie gradually engages us as observing how they tentatively approach to each other as two lonely persons, and it is also supported well by the unadorned realistic acting of its two lead performers.

During the first act, the movie looks into its two main characters’ respective daily lives in a town in Yorkshire, England. While Ava (Claire Rushbrook) is an Irish assistant teacher in a local elementary school, Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is a married South Asian Muslim guy who has also been the friendly landlord of a house where one Hungarian immigrant family lives, and he and Ava come across each other on one day when he comes to her workplace for picking up the little daughter of that family, who happens to be under Ava’s charge. He kindly suggests to her that she should get on his car along with that little girl mainly because they all live in the same neighborhood, and she gladly accepts his generous offer.

As they talk with each other for a while in his car, Ali and Ava come to see how much they are different from each other besides their cultural/racial difference. While Ava loves country and folk music, Ali is a passionate fan of techno and trance music as a guy who once worked as a DJ before marrying his wife, and we are not so surprised when the movie later shows his private place full of numerous albums in addition to a recording equipment for composing his rap songs.

Nevertheless, Ava and Ali cannot help but attracted to each other when they come across each other again, and Ali eventually decides to visit Ava’s house for himself later. As spending their little private time together, they willingly share each other’s favorite music genres, and that leads to a small but sweet intimate moment between them, though that is unfortunately interrupted by the sudden appearance of Ava’s volatile son Callum (Shaun Thomas)

While more attracted to each other, Ali and Ava soon come to face each own difficulties in front of them. Although they remain married while living together in the same house, Ali and his wife Runa (Ellora Torchia) have actually been separated from each other, and his wife is already considering leaving him as soon as possible, though they are still hiding their ongoing separation from his family, who has no idea on what is going on between them when they are invited to another family dinner. In case of Ava, she is still haunted by what her second husband, who was not a very nice person according to her, did to her and her eldest daughter from the previous marriage before she eventually decided to leave him along with her children, and she certainly feels hurt whenever she sees how much Callum still misses his father without knowing the awful truth about his father at all.

Nevertheless, both Ava and Ali keep meeting each other as ‘friends’, and it looks like they can step forward a bit toward each other. Ali does not hide at all that he is still technically married, and that makes Ava rather unsure about their developing relationship, but she still likes him anyway, and she does not say no when they eventually move onto the next step of their relationship.

Although it is often conventional, the screenplay by director/writer Clio Barnard pays attentions to the specific details of the lives of its two main characters, and that contributes considerable realism to the story. Through a number of ethnic characters surrounding Ali, we observe how much the world of the British working class has been changed during last several decades, and the same thing can be said about the school class handled by Ava, which is filled with various kids from different racial backgrounds.

Above all, the movie moves us with a number of small poignant personal moments showing its two main characters’ aching loneliness. Still struggling to accept the fact that his wife does not love him as much as before, Ali often lets out his conflicted feelings whenever he is alone in the middle of a misty morning field, and his emotional pain is evident even when the camera observes him from the distance. Although she still does not know that much about Ali, Ava decides to take a chance with him, but her decision causes an unintentional conflict between her and Callum, who cannot accept that well that his mother simply wants to have a boyfriend.

The last act of the movie feels a bit too hurried, but Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook still hold our attention as before. While Akhtar, who has been more notable as appearing in several recent films including “Four Lions” (2010) and “Enola Holmes” (2020), subtly conveys to us his character’s complicated human feelings without exaggerating them, Rushbrook, who played Brenda Blethyn’s feisty daughter in “Secrets & Lies” (1996), ably generates gentle warmth behind her plain appearance, and they are also supported well by several other main cast members including Ellora Torchia, Shaun Thomas, Natalie Gavin, and Mona Goodwin.

On the whole, “Ali & Ava” is worthwhile to watch thanks to not only Akhtar and Rushbrook’s praiseworthy efforts but also Barnard’s sensitive handling of story and characters, and I am also impressed by how it effectively utilizes several songs for effective dramatic moments. To be frank with you, I am not so interested in folk or techno, but the movie made me appreciate a bit more of a certain famous Bob Dylan song as well as one techno song prominently featured in the film, and I guess that is a sort of achievement.

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