Danish director Susanne Bier and writing partner Anders Thomas Jensen have made successful careers as purveyors of melodrama, collaborating on the critically acclaimed Brothers, After the Wedding, and In a Better World. Their work pays homage to the excesses of silent era Hollywood, with an unfettered employ of coincidence, destiny, Manichean dichotomies, and frustration with the modern world. If Bier’s preceding films sometimes ended with body counts as high as the Bard's darker plays, then her latest film can accurately be described as a Shakespearean comedy.
Love Is All You Need features a great deal of verbal sparring, screwball antics, and round robin romantic couplings leading up to the main calamitous event, a wedding in Italy. The film introduces us to young lovers Astrid and Patrick as they begin readying Patrick’s family’s run-down coastal Italian villa to host their nuptuals. A montage of humorous renovation blunders, interspersed with much kissing and general gooey-eyedness, ensues before returning to cold, bleak Denmark where we meet Philip (Pierce Brosnan) and Ida (Trine Dyrholm). Philip is a widower who runs a large corporation that sells fruits and vegetables (we hear Philip snipe over the phone to an employee “I want total focus on radishes!”), and Ida is a quietly sad but perpetually sunny hairdresser who wears a wig, as she has just completed her final round of chemotherapy. While Philip is aggravated at work (particularly at the needling of his incorrigible sister-in-law, the shrewish Benedikte) and isolated as a perpetual stranger in a strange land, Ida returns home from therapy to find her husband in the thralls of illicit passion with a much younger woman. Both Ida and Philip are separately at the end of their respective ropes, but their two stories will collide, when, in the proper melodramatic tradition of coincidence, Ida backs her car into Philip’s as they are both in a rush to get to the airport—to Italy—where each of their children is getting married—to each other.
The second act of the film brings all of the characters together in the now beautifully restored villa settled picturesquely between the Mediterranean and the family’s old lemon grove. The luxurious visuals of sunsets and sparkling water soothe characters and viewers alike into a temporary calm before the conflict that is fated to escalate whenever characters with skeleton-filled closets are placed together in one house. Ida and Philip bicker and tease before not-so-slowly warming to each other, while tensions rise around them: Ida’s husband brings his new girlfriend to the wedding, Benedikte attempts to seduce Philip, and Astrid worries that Patrick is not sexually attracted to her (though he spends increasing amounts of time in the company of one of the Italian men helping with the renovation). The events leading up to the wedding are disastrous (perhaps as a nod to Bier’s After the Wedding, in which the melodramatic excess abounds after the nuptials rather than before), but the audience need not worry whether everything will work out for the best in the end.
This is certainly not a spoiler—Love Is All You Need embraces convention. In the hands of a lesser director or writer this rom com might be dismissed as fluff, but helmed by Bier and Jensen, the film is self-aware enough to avoid the hokey-ness associated with the genre. Buffeted by languorous Italian vistas and the emotional depth of the characters, the film falls more into the Nancy Meyers camp of rom com, in which relatable late-in-life romances are played out against sumptuous settings. Pierce Brosnan’s Philip is a more vulnerable and damaged character than the actor typically plays, and Trine Dyrholm as Ida (who also appears in Bier’s In a Better World) strikes the perfect balance between doe-eyed optimist and shrewd observer of human nature. The two have an easy chemistry, adding to the impression that is a generally easy film to watch and enjoy.
Those familiar with Bier might criticize Love Is All You Need as slight or minor as compared to her previous work; perhaps it is. But this film is merely another side of the same melodramatic coin that comprises her oeuvre. Where films like Open Hearts are shot with Dogme 95 aesthetics, focused on sacrifice, choice, and tragedy—typical of the “almost” and “too late” nature of (melo)dramatic irony—her latest film is stylistically expressive and focused more on the “what if” than the “if only.” It’s a film about vulnerability and hope, with a pervasive visual and narrative motif of lemons, begging the characters and viewers to make some lemonade. And for the most part we do, forgiving or perhaps accepting the conventions of the genre because the appeal of the film does not lie in the predictable ending, but in the pleasure of getting there.