Susanne Bier has shown a real talent for handling what amounts to genre material with a touch of class that sets her films apart from the merely conventional. She’s taken scripts with a distinctly melodramatic feel and managed to make them feel real and fresh, as in her recent Oscar-winning “In a Better World,” but also earlier films like “Brothers,” “After the Wedding” and “Open Hearts.” The question raised by “Love Is All You Need” is whether she can pull off the same trick with the clichés of romantic comedy.
The answer is: to some degree. The screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen mingles some elements that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Ross Hunter production with others that carry an edge, or are substantially reworked. Pierce Brosnan is Philip, a rich, handsome widower running a fruit-and-vegetable import-export business in Denmark. He son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) is about to get married at one of his father’s houses, a coastal retreat in Italy, and Philip is flying to the ceremony.
At the Copenhagen airport, however, his car is hit by Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a housewife and hairdresser who’s not only gone through a series of treatments for breast cancer, but returned from the doctor’s office to find her husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) in a distinctly compromising situation with his young co-worker Tilde (Christine Schaumburg-Muller). They immediately separate, but will both be going to the wedding of their daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind), who, of course, just happens to be the girl marrying Patrick. So Philip and Ida meet “cute” in a rom-com fashion that insures their initial hostility to one another; but there’s a melancholy undercurrent in Ida’s illness that adds some sour to the sweet.
We know, of course, where their relationship will eventually end up. But their gradual warming to each other in Italy is surrounded by a great many subplots. One involves the pre-nuptial situation of Patrick and Astrid, who seem to be very much in love. But there’s something not quite right in the young man’s jealousy when he believes one of the locals, a caterer, is eying his prospective bride, and that will lead to a turn that jeopardizes the ceremony. Then there’s Benedikte (Paprika Steen), Philip’s sister-in-law, a harridan who berates her understandably rebellious teenage daughter (Frederikke Thomassen) and has long deluded herself into believing that the widower is as interested in her as she is in him. A sort of nastier female variant of the sort of “third wheel” that Gig Young or Tony Randall would have played in an old Doris Day-Rock Hudson movie, she immediately takes to undercutting Ida, whom she recognizes as a potential rival, and whose good-nature is also assaulted by the arrival of Leif, who’s unconscionably brought Tilde along with him. The surprise appearance of Ida and Leif’s soldier son Kenneth (Micky Skeel Hansen), on leave for a minor wound, adds to the ill-temper, since he’s furious over the way his father has humiliated his mother and ready to vent his anger.
Even in such a hothouse atmosphere, the gradual warming of Philip and Ida toward one another continues. The locale certainly doesn’t hurt: cinematographer Morten Soborg captures the gorgeous seaside shots with as bright a color palette as would have graced one of those Hunter confections of bygone years, and Bier and editors Pernille Bech Christensen and Morten Egholm use postcard-pretty establishing shots in every transition—and even places where no transition is occurring.
The last half-hour or so of the picture follows a familiar path. Ida and Philip leave Italy still unattached, and she even takes back Leif, who’s been dumped by Tilde and longs for the comfortable domesticity his affair had destroyed. But of course the incipient romance that began in Italy can’t be denied—or can it? The answer to that question is pretty much dictated by the genre to which the movie belongs, and by the title, which is pretty much a giveaway (but still superior to the Danish one, “The Bald Hairdresser,” which one can’t even envisage on an American marquee). But getting to the destination that’s been inevitable from the start is one of the pleasures of romantic comedies for those who enjoy them. And for them the pleasure will only be enhanced by the presence of Brosnan, who cuts a suave figure as the eligible widower, and even more by Dyrholm, who invests Ida with a degree of depth and complexity unusual in this sort of film. The supporting cast is also excellent, though Steen comes on very strong as the obnoxious Benedikte.
So while this is is hardly Bier at her best, the agreeable leads, lovely locale and tweaking of romantic comedy conventions make the film more engaging than one might expect.