Love Is All You Need

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Love Is All You Need
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Ida (Trine Dyrholm) is a hairdresser in a shop in Copenhagen. Phillip (Pierce Brosnan) is a prosperous American businessman also in Copenhagen. These two have nothing in common, except for one thing: her daughter, Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind), and his son, Patrick (Sebastian Jessen), are about to be married in Sorrento, Italy. But, the first meeting between parents has a rocky start in “Love Is All You Need.”

Robin:
Susanne Bier is not known for her light-hearted romantic comedies. Her earlier films, like “Brothers,” “After the Wedding” and “Things We Lost in the Fire” are hard-hitting dramas and stirring character studies. So, when I hear her name attached to a romcom about a wedding – the kind of film I usually abhor for the clichés and cookie cutter stories – I had to give it a chance. Because of Bier’s involvement as writer and director in “All You Need Is Love,” I looked forward to the experience that is a Susanne Bier film.

I was not disappointed. The story is pretty routine: families converge to some exotic locale for a wedding. But, where this departs from the run-of-the-mill romantic comedy is with the characters and their development as the film unfolds. Ida is a breast cancer victim who has just completed her chemotherapy. She is told that she appears to be in remission and hurries home to tell her husband, Leif (Kim Bodnia), the good news. Instead, he finds him in flagrante delicto with Tilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Muller) from accounting.

Dumbstruck and distraught, she heads off alone for the flight to Italy and Astrid and Patrick’s wedding. At the airport, she parks her car but sees it is a handicapped spot. Still dazed by events she backs up without looking and into Phillip pristine Jaguar. He flips out when he sees the damage and starts yelling at Ida, not knowing she is on the verge. Crying, she drives forward into the wall and the air bag pops out. He tries to calm her (not too well) and she tells him “you’re awful, stupid and not nice.” Of course, they are seated next to each other for the long flight to Italy.

While the drama unfolds in Denmark, Astrid and Patrick move into his father’s summer villa. The rooms are empty, with all the furnishings piled up in a room. Patrick is annoyed that things are not already set up. Astrid, though, sees “the glass as half full” and looks forward to getting ready for the flood of guests coming to their nuptials. But, something is not quite right. The guests begin to arrive and to Ida’s shock, they include Leif AND Tilde, who keeps introducing herself as Leif’s fiancée.

As the festivities begin, with an abundance of food and drink, the cast of characters are introduced. Some characters, like Phillip’s hot-for-him sister-in-law Benedikte (Paprika Steen) are fully drawn into real, if not always likable, characters. Others, like Benedikte troubled teen daughter, Alexandra (Frederikke Thomasen), are not as deeply drawn but are still fully defined characters. It is no mean feat when you remember the names of all of the many characters, they are drawn so well. Bier does not concentrate on the inevitable romance between Ida and Phillip. That is just one thread in this intricate tapestry that has a number of subplots.

Acting is above board with all of the characters being people, not caricatures as would be the case in a Hollywood version of the same story. Trine Dyrholm, as Ida, is luminous on the screen even when she removes the wig she wears since chemo treatments, revealing her bald pate. When she is on screen, you cannot take your eyes off of her and the camera loves her in close-up. She can also act up a storm, too. Pierce Brosnan does a solid job giving complexity, and some angst, to his Phillip. He lost his wife three years before in tragic traffic accident. Since then, he exclaims he wants to be left along. His character has the greatest arc as he undergoes positive changes in his life because of Ida.

The Italian locales are stunning and all aspects of production have a first-rate feel, especially the sun-drenched photography lensed by Bier’s longtime collaborator, cinematographer Morton Soborg. Bier’s use of languages is intelligently handled. One good example is when Phillip is given an unexpected birthday party by his employees. They speak to Phillip in Danish and he responds in English. The nuance is, he can understand them but will only reply in English. This type of interchange takes place throughout the film as the Danes speak Danish and the Italians speak Italian.

The whole of “Love Is All You Need” makes me want to book a plane to Italy’s Amalfi Coast for a long vacation. I give it a B+.

Laura:
Ida (Trine Dyrholm, "The Royal Wedding") has just completed chemotherapy when she returns home to catch husband Leif (Kim Bodnia, "Terribly Happy," "In a Better World") in the act with the much younger Thilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Müller) on the living room couch.  And so she is faced with traveling alone from Copenhagen to her daughter Astrid's (Molly Blixt Egelind) wedding on Italy's Amalfi Coast.  In the airport parking lot, she backs into Philip (Pierce Brosnan, "Mamma Mia!"), her first time meeting the groom's father, a man still taking the loss of his wife years earlier out on the rest of humanity.  During the ofttimes tumultuous events of the wedding celebration though, Ida and Phillip will find that "Love Is All You Need."

Danish director Susanne Bier ("Open Hearts," "Brothers") and her screenwriting partner Anders Thomas Jensen ("Brothers," "In a Better World") are known for delving into the difficulties of human relationships, but despite cancer, sexual identity confusion, adultery and an array of other family issues, this is an entirely lighter turn than their 2006 "After the Wedding."  With Pierce Brosnan's presence in an idyllic Mediterranean wedding setting, they'll have to get used to comparisons to "Mamma Mia!," but predictability or no, Bier delivers a stronger, deeper film.

The tone is somewhat deceptively set with Dean Martin's 'That's Amore' as Bier switches among three establishing locales.  Optimistic Ida has been thrown for a loop, but still believes her marriage is solid.  In Sorrento, Astrid and Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) arrive at his father's villa where Patrick is shocked by its unkempt state and Astrid is charmed by its romantic rusticity.  With the help of local friend Alessandro (Ciro Petrone, "Gomorrah"), the couple begin to transform it.  Meanwhile in the sterile environment of his produce warehouse, Phillip is made uncomfortable by a surprise birthday celebration from his employees, including his deluded sister-in-law Benedikte (Paprika Steen, "The Celebration," "Keep the Lights On").

Ida and Phillip arrive in Sorrento together, and we can see Phillip struggle with memories of the place.  But Ida's brightness in the face of ongoing obstacles has caught his attention (Bier highlights this with multiple long shots of the two choosing the same time to frequent their respective balconies).  When Benedikte arrives with her troubled, bulimic daughter, she notices too, and her behavior becomes more and more outrageous as she tries to make her claim on Phillip.  Leif arrives and he's not alone and Astrid is having trouble seducing her fiance.

Everything is telegraphed, but that doesn't mean receiving the message is a let down, largely due to Bier's expert hand and her wonderful cast.  We are startled by the blue, blue eyes of the four principals, particularly Dyrholm, whose luminous performance buoys the film.  She's a marvel and Brosnan embraces her special qualities acting against her (the actor also plunges into palpable grief, and one remembers he also lost a wife too young).  One almost feels for Steen, playing such a horrible person, but she's probably having a ball doing it - the proof is in the pudding.  Also notable is Micky Skeel Hansen as Astrid's brother Kenneth, a surprise wedding attendee and staunch maternal supporter, and Christiane Schaumburg-Müller, who, against all odds, ends up making Thilde likable.

Like similar films which have come before, from ""Shirley Valentine" to "Under the Tuscan Sun," much of the pleasure to be found in "Love Is All You Need" is in its glorious location. But Bier puts her own stamp on the romantic comedy genre, finding sexual allegory in the blight of a lemon tree.  "Love Is All You Need" may be lighter than her usual output, but it isn't lightweight.

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