Danish director Susanne Bier is Euro in her instincts and Hollywood in her endings. She has a knack for scraping the rust off old morality tales – the good/bad sibling narrative in Brothers, the eye-for-an-eye syndrome in the Oscar-winning In a Better World – and finding the modern complexities beneath, only to resolve the complications on a grace note of concluding optimism. Typically, her taste runs to ethical dramas but here she’s tackled the rustiest and most Tinseltown genre of all – the romcom. As the title more than hints, Love Is All You Need is no stranger to formulaic clichés, but it’s still a Bier film. There’s a sprinkling of vinegar in the treacle, a bit of ballast in fancy’s lightweight flight, and, of course, the triumph of optimism that can seem unearned in her dramas is made to measure in a comedy.
The reason can be traced to a wonderfully likeable character and to the superlative actor who plays her. The opening sequence speaks volumes about both. Postmastectomy, postchemo, middle-aged Ida (Trine Dyrholm) is in her doctor’s office receiving the conventional wisdom ladled out on such occasions – think we caught it all but no guarantee, group therapy might be useful, relations with hubby could be affected. Ida listens politely, shakes her head at the therapy offer and, turning to the husband front, cracks the opening joke: “I doubt that he’s even noticed one of them is missing.”
Yet Dyrholm delivers the line without a trace of self-pity. Indeed, there’s an unfeigned breeziness in her manner that immediately establishes Ida’s essential nature. She’s the rarest of characters on or off screen: an intrinsic optimist, not the blind but the brave variety. Her impulse is always to move ahead, to get on with it. Even when Ida returns home to discover that husband in bed with a young blonde, her anger is real but so is her commitment to the future. After all, her daughter is set to be married in Italy, and the mother of the bride must be there. Alone that night before a mirror, she removes her wig and confronts the bald truth with an acceptant shrug.
By contrast, the father of the groom is mired in the past. A Brit who owns a Danish company, Philip (Pierce Brosnan) remains in perpetual mourning for his late wife and, consequently, has grown estranged from his only son. Cut to his villa on the Amalfi Coast, where the wedding party gathers along with the set-piece tropes. Trouble in paradise? You bet, especially when the groom starts casting lusty glances at some hovering Italian hunk. Rehearsal dinner complete with clumsy speeches? No doubt. Boisterous, buxom, lascivious aunt who’s impervious to insult or embarrassment? For sure. Uninvited guest, antic punch-up, ensuing chaos? Yes, yes, yes.
Nevertheless, as the ostensible romance withers and the actual one blooms – between Ida and Philip, natch – there’s real delight in watching a pair of veterans ply their trade. Brosnan is terrific at conveying the unexpectedness of love, at incipient feelings that don’t so much crack his hard shell as randomly dent it, leaving him to sift through the surprise. And Dyrholm is better still at capturing the inevitability of love, at least in those special persons who possess it as a gift and a given. Watch her in the scenes with Ida’s grown children, especially her son. She doesn’t dote on him but simply and transparently enjoys him, radiating a pure pleasure in his company.
Not since Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky have we seen a film, and a performance, do what fiction (if not fact) is so seldom capable of doing – making a truly good character also seem truly interesting. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, on both occasions, the characters have something glorious in common – they’re women.