⋆ ⋆ out of four stars
Susanne Bier, a Danish director with a penchant for powerful drama, splashes in the shallow end of the pool with the mid-life romance “Love Is All You Need.” After a series of films (including her 2011 Oscar winner “In a Better World”) that linked domestic angst with the plight of Afghanistan, India and Sudan, she offers us a featherweight rom-com set on Italy’s postcard-worthy Amalfi coast.
Pierce Brosnan plays Philip, a widowed workaholic grocery magnate living in Denmark. His son is about to marry the daughter of Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a Copenhagen hairdresser and housewife, with the reception at Philip’s seaside estate in Sorrento. The happy occasion is somewhat darkened by Ida’s cancer diagnosis, and her discovery that her comic-buffoon husband is cheating with a much younger woman. Her natural good cheer shines through all the same. It’s Philip, a brooding Mr. Darcy type, who’s most in need of cheering up. His late wife’s overbearing sister Benedikte (Paprika Steen) intends to snag the melancholy millionaire as the wedding day sets a romantic tone. But it’s Ida, on course for divorce, who lightens his mood.
Does Ida stand a chance against this juggernaut of high-heeled chutzpah? Seriously, are you asking? Have you not read “Cinderella”? Bier’s first English-language film deals in the same dumbed-down wish fulfillment peddled by standard American studio fare. What’s the Danish word for “Sarah Jessica Parker”?
Time and again people act improbably not because of their individual nature, but because they are gears in a mechanical, contrived storybook romance. Most of the cast are attractive, but for all the definition the schematic script gives them, they might as well be nuts and bolts.
Dyrholm and Brosnan are introduced in a ludicrous meet-cute as she backs her little car into his luxury sedan. The young groom’s wedding jitters have a cause that’s transparently obvious and anachronistic. The odd-couple asymmetry between the suave, wealthy Brosnan and the kind, downmarket Dyrholm is all too pat. The film runs two hours and drags like three as it programmatically hands every player her happy ending or just deserts. It’s a soap bubble that seems as if it will never, ever pop.
There are signs of life. Steen goes all-in as the scheming queen bee Benedikte, crafting a character who’s appalling, tartly funny and richly entertaining. The rest of the crew struggle to find two dimensions in their underwritten roles. Brosnan’s stoically suffering widower is more a conceit than a person. Dyrholm can’t put much dramatic substance on a character so inhumanly sweet and noble. It’s difficult to believe that Bier, who can craft meaningful stories about human connections, is serving up this glop of artificially sweetened pap, with its glib plot, travelogue cinematography and indifferent visual storytelling.
Ordinarily I would shrug off a trifle like this as a product of Hollywood sexism. “Love Is All You Need” proves that European intellectuals, too, can make movies for women who have graduated from high school but never left.