Release Date – 4th March 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 35 minutes, Director – Clio Barnard
Romantically lonely souls Ali (Adeel Akhtar) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook) spark a surprise relationship which appears to create familial rifts as they grow closer.
There’s a highly down-to-earth naturalistic nature to writer-director Clio Barnard’s Ali And Ava. It removes a ‘will they, won’t they’ feel from her romantic drama as you simply watch the relationship between the two initially romantically lonely souls grow. The pair have had their fair share of relationship troubles (to put it mildly). Ali (an excellent Adeel Akhtar) is a landlord with a passion for music, collecting money from his various tenants, who he appears to be on very friendly terms with – seemingly the case with everyone he meets, greeting them with a courteous smile. Meanwhile, Ava (Claire Rushbrook) is a softly-spoken, mild-mannered classroom assistant and caring mother, still recovering from her abusive ex-husband, and a tense relationship with her son, Callum (Shaun Thomas). The pair meet after a chance encounter when Ali is picking one of his tenants kids up from school in the pouring rain, just as Ava is about to begin walking home herself.
It’s an initial click that starts the snowballing effect into a friendship and beyond. The pair natter and discuss and set off on very friendly terms with each other. It’s a close friendship that has clearly been missing from their lives for a fair while and it’s certainly interesting to see it develop in some of the quieter conversational scenes between the pair. However, on discovery the bond between the pair is met with frustration and anger from Callum, going for the attack on Ali, who himself is trying to hide his connection to Ava from his soon-to-be-separated wife Runa (Ellora Torchia) and family as a whole, and vice versa. It’s such moments that lie within slightly longer scenes with perhaps a bit less connection to than those holding the bonding of the central friendship, and eventual romance.
In general the themes are well handled and they fit the short 95 minute run-time well, and with little complaints, however the feeling is present that one or two do feel slightly extended. Things don’t completely stray into ‘this could be a short film’ territory, and this is perhaps largely down to the run-time and the two central performances that are at the heart of the film – capturing the fine, naturalistic bond that acts as the core of the piece in the first place. While the friendship feels more developed than the more romantic side which is introduced later on; perhaps because of the engaging scenes of bantering and bonding over music and general conversations and observations on life, in the simple setting of Ava’s cluttered living room, there’s still enough to keep you engaged in the film as a whole and get you to the end.
It just all gives the ending a slightly rushed feeling as with everything developed, particularly between Ava and her son, adding potential dramas and tensions to the titular pairing. After a handful of longer and slower scenes making up quiet observations throughout the film the final stages almost feel as if something is missing, you’re almost waiting for further development from the quick-feeling ending. Perhaps there’s a want for certainty for the viewer towards the characters after everything we’ve seen them endure and go through. There’s not exactly a growth so to say, but a re-gaining of something they both knew was missing from their lives, having acknowledged and lived within that gap every day. It’s a point made and felt in a handful of scenes, particularly as the relationship begins to grow and we see things develop with interest. There’s a mild warmth between the well-performed Ali and Ava and it certainly helps to heighten the coldness of some of the drama. Some of these elements simply feel slightly drawn out, and engage you further in the perceived light of the initial friendship.
The titular Ali and Ava are brought to life by two excellent central performances who understand and fill the gap in the others life. While some dramatic elements feel slightly drawn out there’s enough within the central relationship, particularly the initial bonding, to keep you in place for the short run-time.