Texas-based writer/director Chyna Robinson’s feature debut, No Ordinary Love is a stunning, no-punches-pulled look at the complicated relationships between husbands and wives — and how easily they can become abusive.
The film contrasts the lives of two different couples. Elizabeth (April Hartman) is married to Michael (Eric Hanson), an arrogant preacher who not only keeps her under his thumb — he’s crushing her with it. He constantly demeans her, complaining about her cooking, her looks, her lack of singing ability. Whenever she tries to fight back, however feebly, he throws a tantrum and blasts her for her lack of faith.
According to the Scriptures, he insists, women have been put on this earth to serve their men and obey their every order. And when she turns to his mother (Debbie Tucker) for consolation, the woman hollowly repeats the things her son has said. It’s a harrowing moment, right out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Of course, Mommy rushes to tell Michael, making him even angrier.
Elizabeth recognizes another troubled soul in her husband’s congregation. Her name is Tanya (DeAna Anderson), and she’s likewise trapped in an abusive relationship with police officer husband Derrick (Lynn Andrews III), that also includes physical abuse. Derrick can be overly affectionate, buying her gifts and telling her how much she means to him. When he’s drunk, however, he becomes violently ugly.
Clearly, the husbands haven’t always treated their wives this way, but their occasional moments of affection now seem forced and awkward.
When Tanya shows up at church with bruises on her face, she still denies that anything is wrong, but when she begins to fear for the safety of her young daughter, Faith (Nya Cummings), she finally turns to Elizabeth for help. Of course, each of their husbands become suspicious and feel betrayed — and the trouble escalates.
Robinson has a fine ear for dialogue. The words that these characters speak all ring true. “It’s not my story that I’m telling in the movie, but I was able to pull a lot from my own stories as far as being in relationships with manipulation or with coercive control to a certain degree… definitely a lot of myself is in that film,” the director told the Texas Standard. She has also assembled a fine cast that convincingly follows the film’s tonal shifts as it grows increasingly dark.
Made in and around Fort Worth, the film looks and sounds terrific, with vivid cinematography by James Duhon and solid editing by Meagan Waggoner. The filmmakers clearly found resourceful ways to stretch the budget and make a “big” film.
No Ordinary Love is now available on VOD.
Feature photo: DeAna Anderson and Lynn Andrews III.