Thursday, May 16, 2013

Love Is All You Need

I'd hate to see the appealing and funny Danish-Italian romantic comedy "Love Is All You Need" get lost among the wreckage of "Iron Man" and "The Great Gatsby." Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier has cast Pierce Brosnan as Philip, an Englishman living in Denmark by way of Italy, where he grew up on a large lemon farm and now owns and runs a major produce company. Widowed and purposefully resigned to a life without further romantic involvements, Philip's flying back to the Italian family estate for the wedding of his son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) to Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind), the daughter of Ida, a hairdresser (veteran Danish actress Trine Dyrholm), and her stocky husband Leif (Kim Bodnia). Ida has just finished a round of chemotherapy when she returns home to find Leif pulling a Newt Gingrich with Tilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Muller), a vapid tart "from Accounting." On her way to the Copenhagen airport, she backs out of a parking space and directly into the side of Philip's car. And with that, Bier sets the proceedings in motion.

I wasn't a fan of "In a Better World," which won Bier the foreign-language Oscar almost by default in a year (2010) of far worse nominees ("Biutiful," "Incendies"). Her manipulative methods manifest themselves early here, in a scene in which Patrick and an Italian friend carry some mattresses up a flight of stairs. The scene telegraphs a piece of character development that's meant to catch us by surprise an hour later. But the format of a light romantic comedy goes a long way to mask Bier's weaknesses. And she's helped immeasurably by Trine Dyrholm, who owns the movie as Ida. She has a lot of emotions to convey over the course of 100 minutes, and as always it's the courage to underplay that marks her as such a fine actress, free to inhabit Ida and register a range of feelings with the subtlest of inflections and sidelong glances.

The movie takes the time to develop several secondary characters well, including Tilde, who, after Ida's back-from-Iraq son Kenneth punches Leif in his ample gut, runs to his side yelling, "Leifielovie! Leifielovie!" He musters just enough strength to sit up and shout, "Stop calling me Leifielovie!" Later, after Astrid calls the wedding off, Tilde asks, "What do we do now? Is the buffet still on?" Veteran actress Paprika Steen also gets a meaty part as Benedikte, the sister of Philip's late wife who now wants him for herself and looks down on Ida's family. Bier would never play the movie as a farce, but it does build up a certain amount of farcical momentum as the wedding collapses. There are several big laughs.

"Love Is All You Need" takes a light touch. It exploits Brosnan's modest charms and offers plenty in the way of eye candy, from studly Italian boys to dreamy Italian sunsets to the beauty of Egelind's shimmering blue eyes. It's perfect for those who can hear the siren call of a sweet and tender romantic comedy among the cacophony of Baz Luhrmann, Jay-Z, and the robots.

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