By Jonnie Hann, Third Year, Economics and Politics
I wrote my first film review a couple of months back on Licorice Pizza, a bubbling portrayal of teenage love set in 70's San Fernando. What struck me about that was the flowing narrative between its two young characters that, despite being set amongst a backdrop of glowing neon billboards and chrome wheels, felt nuanced and genuine: real in a world where nothing else is. Ali & Ava gives us another love story, stripping away the golden palette to sink into the moody blues and greys of Bradford, West Yorkshire.
This is undeniably British cinema, with a disposition towards social realism that does away with Hollywood’s glamour. Ava (Claire Rushbrook) is a primary school teaching assistant, whilst Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is a landlord; the pair meet in a classically romantic, hair drenching rainstorm.
The tone, aside from the drama of the music and colour, is surprisingly light from the get-go, but as the film unwinds, it’s clear nothing’s going to be easy. Gone is the unbounded, nothing-to-lose and everything-to-gain fearlessness of Licorice Pizza’s young characters; here, both Ali and Ava pull behind them adulthood’s murky stream of loose ends and losses as they step into the unknown together.
It’s worth mentioning that the film deals with some really serious issues (a trigger warning for domestic violence is due), but Barnard gives her characters respect, and although it feels a touch defeating to still be saying this, it’s refreshing to have a female character who is written with so much strength and weakness as Ava. Despite its undoubtedly difficult subject matters, Ali & Ava refuses to remain sat in one corner of the spectrum of emotion - it’s dark at times, but lighthearted enough to remain a relatively easy watch.
The soundtrack is fitting, too, with melancholic strings broken up by punchy electronic beats that reverberate around the cinema. Many of the songs in the soundtrack are listened to on-screen by Ali and Ava, and on top of that, most are heard through headphones.
This is a classic cinema effect, but here serves to catch the audience and take us right inside the characters, removing the us-and-them detachment that melodramatic soundtracks can sometimes create between its audience and characters. One scene sticks in mind: both characters dance atop sofas each with their own music, and whilst the soundtrack cuts intermittently between Ali’s pop and Ava’s folk, we watch them as they dance together, sampling their different worlds.
It’s not perfect: some of the scenes, particularly towards the end, start to feel a little cliché (I’m bored of watching people flirt in front of fireworks), and the ending feels slightly rushed, or at least a little half-baked. But overall, Ali & Ava takes its characters and their undeniably tough situations and gives them the agency to live how they want to.
Despite both characters pushing middle-age, Cleo Barnard gives them a love story that feels as young as anything. It’s proof that you don’t need Hollywood - either behind or in front of the camera - to give a love story life. Just a bit of hope.
Featured Image: IMDB
Will you be indulging in Ali & Ava?