Image: Curzon Artificial Eye
Director: Harry Wootliff
Starring: Laia Costa, Josh O’Connor
Cinemas today are full to the brim with audiences watching battles. Good versus evil, hope versus despair, from Endgame to Star Wars the cornerstone of our entertainment is conflict. In its own more understated, subtle way Harry Wootliff’s romantic drama Only You is also about a battle. It is about what happens when the strongest loves meet the hardest challenges life has to offer. What makes its drama so gripping is not knowing whether complete adoration can weather a storm of pain.
The love in question here is between the affable and charming Jake, and the fun, slightly pricklier Elena. These characteristics are evident in their first meeting as they fight for a taxi on New Year’s Eve. Well, she fights and he concedes, sharing the taxi home and eventually both ending up at her place. From here their romance blossoms and a one-night stand develops into something much more. Elena is nine years older than the slightly boyish Jake, but despite her fears he never sees the age-gap as a concern; instead he is entranced by his ‘perfect’ lover. Despite this, cracks begin to form in their delightful relationship when the couple decide, and struggle, to have a child. It is an issue that is explored with intelligence and understanding, sympathising with both participants as they navigate their problems.
The film’s first act, where the pair fall ever deeper in love, is a joyous watch. Laia Costa and Josh O’Connor have chemistry to spare in the lead roles, making their relationship engaging and authentic. The awkwardness of their early exchanges and mundane intimacy of their dialogue is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy; Wootliff’s film achieves a similar feat of transferring the warm optimism and quiet ecstasy of the pair’s love to the audience.
As the film progresses and the mood darkens, the film shows its greatest strengths, with Costa and O’Connor getting to flex their dramatic muscles. As Elena goes through several tests and changes to her body, Wootliff conveys the sense of weariness and desperation that comes with trying and testing, again and again. Yet, there is a welcome lightness to the film.
The up-close and personal aesthetic – graphic sex, desperate crying, injections – suggests a visceral, honest approach to showing Jake and Elena’s story, but there is an interesting undercurrent of optimism that deepens its emotional impact. The regular use of upbeat whimsical music has a romantic quality that constantly reminds us of the intoxicating love underscoring the difficulties. The strength and endurance of the couple’s love is at once uplifting, and makes their struggles later in the film all the more heart-rending.
With a juxtaposition of tones that signifies the conflict between Elena and Jake’s love and their hardship, Harry Wootliff has crafted a drama that is a rewarding watch. It has charm and humour aplenty, but manages to never shy away from the pain of its protagonists’ predicament. A prolific TV screenwriter, this is her first foray into film; with such sensitivity and humanity to her storytelling, we an only hope that it will not be the last.