Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier’s latest movie is a romantic comedy with an edge, which is what you’d expect from the director of Brothers, After the Wedding and the Oscar- winning In A Better World if she decided to delve into the world of happily ever after.
This marriage of light material and dark director does seem an odd fit at first. Even the title is slightly unnerving. If a movie titled Love Is All You Need were American, surely it would star Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl and be filled with the expected pratfalls and mistaken identities and bad pop song montages we have come to expect and loathe.
But Bier is more tough-minded than that, and Love Is All You Need works despite its occasional preposterous developments. The movie focuses on Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a hairdresser who lives in Copenhagen and has more to worry about than romance. She has just survived a hard year, recently completing chemo to treat breast cancer, and is waiting to hear if she has a clean bill of health. In the meantime, her daughter is getting married in Italy, so at least a trip with her husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) should distract her. But before she can even pack, she discovers the lout is cheating on her, and he strolls out with little more than a “See you in Italy.”
Ida, though, is no shrinking violet; she may not have any hair, she may have refused reconstructive surgery, but she’s got a great wig and a better attitude and the ability to push aside her own troubles and marvel at what the world can offer. She’s also got a remarkable, infectious smile. On her way to Italy she runs into (literally) the cool, unfriendly father of the groom, Philip (Pierce Brosnan), and she manages to wring a few smiles and eventually some charm out of him.
We’ve seen enough romantic comedy to know these two are destined to fall for each other, but Bier is that rare filmmaker who can make you wonder if there will actually be a happy ending. Love Is All You Need is full of the usual tropes of the wedding comedy — family dysfunction, too much drinking, doubts on the parts of the prospective bride and groom — and there are some highly dubious developments. Would Ida really be so calm when her estranged husband shows up in Italy with his bimbo?
But there’s a dark side to all this, too. Ida is enjoying herself so much — spending time with her grown kids, wandering the beautifully scented lemon groves, marveling at the beauty of southern Italy — because she doesn’t know if a death sentence awaits her at home. Philip’s brash sister-in-law is so lonely she refuses to quit throwing herself at him. Philip can’t quell the bitterness left over from his wife’s death. And the groom (Sebastian Jessen) harbors an unfortunate secret.
These jagged little edges help to hammer home the film’s poignant reminder to enjoy life whenever you can, not a new sentiment but in Bier’s hands a useful one.
Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Pierce Brosnan, Kim Bodnia, Sebastian Jessen, Molly Blixt Egeland.
Director: Susanne Bier.
Screenwriters: Anders Thomas Jensen, Susanne Bier.
Producers: Sisse Graum Jorgensen, Vibeke Windelov.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 116 minutes. In English, Danish and Italian with English subtitles. Brief sexuality, nudity, language. Opens May 31 in Miami-Dade: South Beach; in Broward: Gateway, Paradise; in Palm Beach: Shadowood, Palace, Delray.