Thursday 18 July 2019

In vitro veritas: "Only You"

At some point - because it is the way of the digital world - somebody on this planet will undergo the happy accident of sitting down before the 2019 release Only You in the mistaken belief they'd treated themselves to the 1994 romcom of the same name, a film perhaps best remembered nowadays, in our Marvel-dominated moment, for pairing Tony Stark with Peter Parker's Aunt May. What, provided they stick with it, will this befuddled punter get out of the mix-up? Something that operates - and eventually hits - closer to home than the earlier movie's Venetian merry-go-round; less romantic gloss, certainly, but with that, a greater understanding of the interpersonal realpolitik, the day-to-day conversations and negotiations, concessions and compromises, which keeps people together over the long haul. Less Hollywood star power, unarguably - but considerable compensation in the sight of two extremely talented young performers all but setting fire to the screen with the kind of incandescent chemistry you don't often see in mass-tested, PG-rated studio movies.

Our punter should be reassured that they will witness an authentic meet-cute: on the streets of Glasgow one New Year's Eve, thirtysomething Elena (Laia Costa) hails a taxi, only to see it sail past her to stop for twentysomething masters student and part-time DJ Jake (Josh O'Connor). He, gallantly, offers to share the ride, in part because he's taken an obvious fancy to her, and a hook-up soon becomes a thing becomes an actual relationship with cohabitation an option before complications set in, related to the age gap that separates the pair. This in itself wouldn't necessarily throw anybody raised exclusively on the Hollywood romcom - if I rightly recall, there are multiple recent entries in the Jennifer Lopez filmography devoted to the older woman/young lover dynamic - yet Only You's debutant writer-director Harry Wootliff clearly intends to probe a little deeper than those popcorn movies inspired by supermarket-checkout magazine articles on new trends in coupling: what she's interested in is how this mad headlong dash into love is paused by Elena's increasingly hesitant biological clock.

IVF will be the defining chapter in these lovers' lives, as it has been for so many, not that the movies have troubled to explore this very modern science much; those turkey-baster comedies, geared primarily towards semen-displacement farce, hardly count. Whether through personal knowledge or close, careful research, Wootliff has understood there is an involving, human drama in the stresses, costs and bruises (physical and emotional) that follow from putting a fragile possibility of happiness in the hands of medical science. Here, Only You establishes itself as something more than just another date movie - or at the least a date movie for those who've been round the block a few times, and had some of their skylarking illusions stripped away in the process; perhaps even a date movie for lovers who are setting out on this process themselves. The great strength of Wootliff's film is that it realises, however frightening or disheartening IVF might seem, it is just a process, no more or less than browsing a dating site for potential matches, or installing someone you care about in your flat is a process. By ushering her leads into rooms staffed by actual medical professionals, Wootliff can break down and talk us through the science; back at Jake and Elena's flat, she shows us the ups and downs, and also the very great love and solidarity that get even people who meet on the street through the worst of these. Our punter expecting Robert Downey Jr. exchanging amorous banter with Marisa Tomei might be a tad thrown by the grim obligation of the on-the-clock fucking, the fact the montages revolve around hormone injections, and by one especially raw fight, during which not just this relationship, but the world entire threatens to rip itself apart. Yet they might equally feel themselves learning and growing, as the characters here learn and grow.

Crucially, Wootliff gets the basics right, laying the foundations movies and relationships alike need in order for something substantial and lasting to be built. When Jake tells Elena "I love you, you're gorgeous" at a perilously early stage in both film and romance, you buy it entirely, as you did everything O'Connor said in 2017's God's Own Country; there isn't a shot or a scene here that will harm this actor's growing rep as British cinema's most sensitive and sincere beanpole. Costa, for her part, does seem older - more worldly, and all the more attractive for that - than she was as the flighty artist in last year's shambling Netflix relationship drama Duck Butter. You could run these movies back-to-back as illustrations of the difference between carefree twenties and careworn thirties, and Only You will seem doubly impressive to anyone who's cast an eye over the earlier film for being a properly rounded picture of accelerated love, where Duck Butter was really no more than a dashed-off sketch. Wootliff makes thoughtful use of Glasgow as a city where many people live, work and strive to make a future; a couple of skilfully written and played scenes between O'Connor and onscreen dad Peter Wight shade in how would-be babymakers Jake and Elena are themselves their parents' children; and the film sticks its landing, at that place where love becomes inseparable from hope, altogether beautifully. There is no reason why our flexible punter couldn't then source the original Only You - which remains nothing if not accessible - albeit with a whole new perspective on its smooth romantic sailing; Wootliff, to her considerable credit, realises happiness is more often than not hard work - harder than our romcoms typically allow for - but also that we owe it to ourselves to put the hours in.

Only You is now playing in selected cinemas, and streaming via Curzon Home Cinema. 

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