Love is All You Need marks Susanne Bier’s first time to the director’s chair since her 2010 Academy Award winner It’s a Better World. It’s more lightweight material compared to that work, with a script co-written with Anders Thomas Jensen that provides plenty of heartfelt moments and earnest laughs. (It’s probably because angry epithets always sound more amusing in a foreign language, but maybe that’s just me.) But given that its intended audience will immediately think The Beatles when glancing at the title, Bier’s odd fixation with Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” seems trite; it’s as if to warn us in advance that a good chunk of the movie will take place in Italy, but that’s like giving out Fodor’s guides to Morocco before a screening of Casablanca.
The storyline has the added burden of delving into the always-uneasy subject of cancer, but refreshingly strays from the easy route of turning it into a plot device to force emotion from the audience. In fact, we first meet our heroine, Ida (Trine Dyrholm), in the midst of a consultation with her oncologist after having completed a round of chemotherapy for breast cancer. The consequential hair loss has her wearing a long blonde wig that makes Dyrholm an honest-to-God dead ringer for Gwyneth Paltrow. (Indeed, the original Danish title literally translates to “The Bald Hairdresser,” as a nod to Ida’s occupation.)
Her daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) is also about to get married in Sorrento, Italy, which should be joyous news, but upon returning home from the hospital, Ida finds her lug of a husband, Leif (Kim Bodnia) making whoopie right on their living room couch with Tilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Muller), a much younger woman from his workplace’s accounting department. Heated words are exchanged, push comes to shove, and Leif dumps her on the spot, leaving Ida to make the trip to Italy alone.
Meanwhile, Phillip (Pierce Brosnan) is a successful but pessimistic English businessman plying his trade in Copenhagen. When we first see him, he is reluctantly celebrating his birthday – a random but sweet moment is when his office staff waves little Danish flags – only because it was blabbed by his former sister-in-law Benedikte (Paprika Steen, in full cougar mode here). It’s soon discovered that Phillip is a widower who has long been unable to get over the death of his wife, Elizabeth, in a car crash, and has since harbored a festering bitterness at the world.
Phillip and Ida meet in amusing circumstances in one of the film‘s best scenes. Distracted and distraught as she attempts to park her car at the airport, Ida accidentally backs her tiny lemon-shaped Fiat into Phillip’s very expensive Bentley, and as he angrily reprimands her through the window like a tiger straining to push through its cage, she puts the car into drive in the midst of her confusion and goes forward right into a wall. (Anyone who’s seen Side Effects will immediately get flashbacks.) In a priceless moment, when she gets out to face Phillip, she attempts to straighten her disheveled wig while he continues his blustery.
Of course it eventually comes to light that she’s the mother of the bride and he the father of the groom, and they‘re soon grudgingly making the trip together to Sorrento, where Phillip has a posh yet neglected villa and lemon grove overlooking the Mediterranean (the opening of the film involves the young newlyweds-to-be moving into the house). It’s a very funny sequence of events that Bier expertly navigates, stripping the cliché from otherwise typical slapstick scenes and quirky Chance Meetings and lending it an effortless grace; she makes even a curmudgeon like Phillip instantly likeable.
The scenes with Astrid and Phillip’s son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) aren’t as well-developed as they navigate the choppy waters of pre-wedding jitters; after the opening scene of the film in which they’re moving into the empty house, they’re all but relegated to the background, which is not necessarily a bad thing as they simply aren’t as compelling as our protagonists. In fact, the supporting cast are nothing more than role players strictly around to provide comic relief, but this is not the type of film meant anyway to support a large ensemble.
No matter, because the inspiring chemistry between Dyrholm and Brosnan – a most unusual pairing – is the first and foremost reason to see this movie. It’s given a boost by the lush cinematography that paints the Italian surroundings in such vivid colors, in particular an abundance of blue and yellow. The fire between Ida and Phillip is officially sparked when he spies her on a serene skinny dip in the sea, bald dome and all, enabling him to see her for who she truly is, both literally and figuratively. When she emerges from the surf, the surgical scar on her right breast is in full, unsettling view.
I admittedly kept waiting for Ida’s cancer, which is implied to be in remission at the outset (she makes interesting references to being “cured”), to play The Big Part in the climax, but thankfully it doesn‘t. While there is a small, late subplot that serves as a reminder of Ida’s ongoing battle, the plot doesn’t aggrandize it, instead electing to hit the audience with a velvet hammer.
This is helped tremendously by Dyrholm’s poignant performance. We’re transfixed along with Phillip by both the Mediterranean swim and the aftermath, and it’s perfectly okay to laugh when Ida’s dislodged hairpiece looks like a tossed hay bale after the airport garage incident. Bier also never makes Ida a constant object of pity; her husband’s philandering already has that covered. She allows the character to live and therefore be subjected like everyone else to the impending prenuptial insanity, but the film’s most compelling scene has nothing to do with Phillip or the wedding or family or anything; just a benign sailing expedition in which that wig comes off again but this time it literally takes your breath away, even if only for a split second.