Only You is a romantic tale about a couple in love but tested emotionally with age gap and fertility concerns. It’s an engaging and honest film. The couple are genuinely likeable, and the film explores painful, grown-up topics that I’ve rarely seen addressed in the movies.
It’s a meet-cute straight out of a Richard Curtis movie (but don’t let that put you off). New Year’s Eve, and Elena (Laia Costa) is at a house party with her friends. Single, in her mid-30s, she makes her excuses and leaves shortly after midnight bells chime. Taxis are scarce. When both she and 26-year old Jake (Josh O’Connor) attempt to hail the same black cab, there’s an awkward misunderstanding before they eventually agree to share. Immediate chemistry. They end up back at her flat and Jake stays the night. So begins a whirlwind relationship.
Things happen quickly; the new couple seem genuinely in love and Jake soon moves in. It’s a delight to witness their growth. Elena seems more fulfilled, although there are a couple of things that concern her. On the night they met she implied that she was only a couple of years older than Jake, fearful he’d flee.
Less trivially, Elena wants a baby and is very aware that her time is biologically limited. Much to her relief, despite his relative youth Jake readily accepts the situation and dives into the commitment of trying for a child. However, the emotional challenges lead to a lot of pain that threatens to challenge their relationship, and this becomes the thrust of most of the film.
I first came across Laia Costa as the eponymous Victoria in Sebastian Schipper’s 2015 shot-in-real-time drama; in that film, her charismatic presence held the attention even when the narrative meandered. She’s equally good in Only You and her presence holds the film together, expressing Elena’s joy, love, anguish, frustration, deep sadness and exhilaration. She’s quite captivating. O’Connor is also very good, his understated performance capturing the quiet uncertainty and hopefulness of the younger man. As a couple, they are exceptionally well cast. They exude sexiness, and their mutual attraction seems physical as well as emotional. They’re believable and you root for them throughout as they gradually realise that the challenges are going to be more difficult than their initial breezy optimism had anticipated.
There’s a great scene near the beginning when Jake first comes back to Elena’s flat. Looking for first impressions in the artefacts of her possessions, he browses her record collection and puts on Elvis Costello’s wonderful song ‘I Want You’ (the Blood and Chocolate LP belongs to her father). A surprising choice – it’s a scathingly bitter song about obsession – but Josh treats it as a simple love song, ignoring its complexities and darkness (a little like his well-meaning but naive approach to the relationship). Later, that song re-emerges, now tinged with nostalgia, to wistfully signpost that they can’t go back, can only look forward.
The film is set in Glasgow – a city very familiar to me, I grew up nearby. Perhaps because it’s less picturesque than Edinburgh, Glasgow is underused in films. The city’s romantic character comes through, even though Only You uses its setting sparingly. [As an aside, the best Glasgow showcase I’ve seen is Bertrand Tavernier’s 1980 film Death Watch, where the stellar cast of Romy Schneider, Harvey Keitel and Harry Dean Stanton add a surreal glamour.]
The direction and camerawork is unshowy, allowing the actors to shine in their dialogue and reactions. The film captures the subtle day-to-day pressures that Elena feels. Her friends all have babies, she notices mothers and children in the street, regular pinpricks of pain and frustration.
Grappling with the subject matter of infertility and IVF treatments, and the inevitable anxieties and emotional turbulence, Only You tries to balance realism and narrative interest. Director Wootliff also wrote the screenplay, which is drawn from her own experiences trying for pregnancy, so we get what seems a very honest and emotionally accurate depiction. However, that leads to an unfortunate degree of repetition – sex scenes, pregnancy tests, disappointments, injections and medical appointments on a loop. It’s a slow and emotionally intense process, one that perhaps requires a microscopic focus to portray the experience. However, the film suffers at times from longueurs as a consequence of that repetition despite the charisma of the leads, particularly when stretched to around two hours duration. The very thing that makes Only You unusual threatens to derail it. It’s to the credit of director Harry Wootliff and particularly to the two leads that the film mostly maintains interest even when the momentum falters.
That said, Only You manages to overcome its difficulties. It depicts what feels like a real and complex relationship, where character flaws and emotion stresses threaten to derail what seems like a perfect relationship. It has the maturity to recognise that neither of them is a bad partner, but human frailties and differing needs can be enough to fundamentally test even the best of relationships. The charm of the leads mean that this dark theme never becomes too depressing, and it’s refreshing to see a realistic, everyday relationship on screen.Follow @davefilmblog