Film Review: Love Is All You Need

Departing her trademark dramas, noted Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier remixes the rom-com in a sparkling cocktail that celebrates the messiness of life.

Susanne Bier has a rep for raw, intense dramas—such as her Oscar winner In a Better World—that locate the personal against larger moral or political issues. In her new Love Is All You Need, the filmmaker, working again with writer Anders Thomas Jensen, refreshes the conventions and clichés of the rom-com, bringing to the mix her own European tone of loopy, hopeful and sad. That the film is mainly set on the magical Amalfi coast and features sunsets and lemon groves will further endear it to foreign film buffs in the mood for art-house lite.

Ida, a Danish hairdresser (the luminous Trine Dyrholm) has just emerged from a course of chemo—only to walk in on husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) having sex on the sofa with a young blonde from the accounting department. Ida (pronounced Ee-da) musters a brave front and decides to attend solo the wedding of her daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) in a villa in Sorrento. The airport garage hosts a meet-cute melee between Ida and Philip (Pierce Brosnan), a sour Brit tycoon working in Copenhagen. A widower ripe for the plucking, he also happens to be the owner of the villa in Sorrento and father of the bridegroom. This absurd setup might initially put a dent in the viewer's hopes to match the one Ida puts in Philip's shiny fender. The score of pop Italian faves that have long outworn their welcome promises little better.

But wait. Bier's characters are twistier than what usually inhabits the genre. Ida, with her striking platinum tresses, might be unworldly—her son dismisses her as “a simp”—but she's intelligent and charitable, and is comically prone to forgiveness. “My illness put a great strain on him,” she says to justify the boorish behavior of her husband.

Meanwhile, the family members who descend pre-wedding on Philip's villa range from buffoonish to dazed and confused, setting the stage for some LOL moments. Paprika Steen has a fine old time as Philip's sister-in-law, a grasping vulgarian who longs to bag him. Amusingly, her teen daughter virtually crawls under the table every time her mother opens her mouth. Ida's daughter Astrid confesses to mom that her betrothed is “not into me.” A disastrous shakeup at the pre-nuptials blowout proves her right. Boorish Leif gets his comeuppance when his girlfriend, whom he's had the gall to shlep to the wedding, reveals she's in the market for better prospects, including his own son.

At the center of this imploding family affair are Ida and Philip. Inevitably, as the genre insists, they knit together, courting in the lemon grove, his inner grouch melting under the shine of her gaze. “I'm sorry we're such a crazy family,” Ida tells Philip. Earlier on, a somber note is injected into the craziness when Philip stumbles on Ida skinny-dipping. She emerges from the sea a bald Venus, her blonde wig tossed on the beach towel like an animal pelt. What's hard to imagine in a traditional rom-com is the use of such a moment as a first stage of amorous interest.

Mortality has figured in Bier's previous dramas, notably in After the Wedding, which features an indelible tirade against the dying of the light. Her originality in Love is to weave the specter of illness into a family comedy so it glistens like dark iridescence over all the high-jinks. Brosnan, for whom the word debonair was invented, makes a fine foil for Dyrholm, an actress with riveting round blue eyes that mirror decency and courage. At moments she appears to channel the great Giulietta Masina as Gelsomina in La Strada. Viewers can't help but root for Dyrholm's Ida and her pursuit of happiness in this sparkling cocktail of a rom-com edged in darkness.