Danish director Susanne Bier, coming off a series of intense dramas including her Oscar-winning “In a Better World,” “Things We Lost in the Fire” and “After the Wedding,” shifts gears with “Love Is All You Need.”
As the title suggests, she is venturing into Rom-Com Land. Being Susanne Bier though, her rom-com reminds you of no such land that you’re used to in movies. While taking a more lighthearted approach, she nevertheless delves into such serious topics as cancer and death along with marital infidelity, family dysfunction and closeted homosexuality.
In short, she is unwilling to abandon her own clear-eyed, skeptical view of mankind and its troubles even when in a lighthearted mood.
Such an approach yields major rewards, It’s a rom-com you can actually believe in. Then again, she has not shifted gears all that radically: There is never a total absence of humor in her serious dramas either.
As the movie begins, you can pretty much guess what’s meant to happen. But in “getting there” many surprises and much of the comedy unfold in a story Bier dreamed up with her longtime collaborator, writer Anders Thomas Jensen.
You can certainly figure out that Trine Dyrholm’s abandoned wife Ida, ever cheerful in the face of much adversity, is destined to intersect romantically with Pierce Brosnan’s embittered widower and workaholic Philip.
Indeed the wedding of their respective offspring in Italy absolutely insures this destiny. Nevertheless, Bier and Jensen can’t resist throwing in a “meet cute” anyway.
This happens when their cars collide at Copenhagen’s airport. This also establishes the implausible fact that despite the impending nuptials and living in the same city, neither has met the other before.
This is the first of several implausible circumstances that surround the festivities in sunny Sorrento with its lemon grove, seaside village and achingly beautiful sunsets in marked contrast to modern, efficient, gloom-shrouded Copenhagen.
For other implausible developments, the movie allows Ida’s clueless philandering husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) to turn up with his bimbo mistress Tilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Müller). Then Philip’s blowzy sister-in-law Benedikte (Paprika Steen) makes a play for him despite his ill-disguised loathing of her.
Yet amid the social faux pas, the central romance blossoms in an entirely convincing and natural manner. Each cultivates an antipathy toward the other only for this distaste to succumb to a desperate need for intimacy of which neither is fully aware.
Ida has just gone through a year battling breast cancer that has included a mastectomy and heavy regimen of chemo. Her reward is an uncertain prognosis and a guileless, insensitive husband who leaves her for a younger and apparently equally guileless woman.
Philip is still in shock from the accidental death of his beloved wife years before, which caused him to abandoned his Sorrento estate — now getting swiftly restored for the wedding — and apparently his son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen).
Indeed the son might have rushed into a wedding to Ida’s daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) because this is the only way to reclaim his father’s attention, if only for a few days.
Which means that all may not be well with the intended couple despite all a lovey-dovey show of affection.
The bride, groom and other weddings guests do seem engineered for background “color.” Each contains a running gag or on-going situation that brings the film in line with all the other sit-com wedding movies that kicked off so many years ago with “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
Yet Dyrholm and Brosnan do fine jobs of steering their characters through the tricky cross-currents of the story. Given the downturns in many story lines, you can’t even be sure if the film will even offer up a happy or even a hopeful ending.
Ida does find another lump on her neck while Philip long ago misplaced his wooing skills. He does at least rid himself of his incessantly ringing mobile phone though.
But it’s in these idiosyncrasies that “Love Is All You Need” shines. The comedy keeps you off-balance with its melodrama and erratic characters. Family weddings are like that, Bier seems to be saying. Everyone is at his worst, even the romantic couple who, in this movie, is not the bride and groom.
Meanwhile, Susanne Bier told me earlier this week her next film, which stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, will be “very dark.” So get your laughs while you can!
Opens: May 3, 2013 (Sony Pictures Classics)
Production companies: Zentropa Entertainments29 in co-production with Lumiere & Co., Slotmachine, Zentropa International France, Film I Väst, Zentropa International Sweden, DR, Sveriges Television, Arte Franc Cinéma, Network Movie, ZDF, Arte and Longride
Cast: Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm, Molly Blixt Egelind, Sebastian Jessen, Paprika Steen, Kim Bodnia, Christiane Schaumburg-Müller, Micky Skeel Hansen
Director: Susanne Bier
Screenwriters: Anders Thomas Jensen
Story by: Susanne Bier & Anders Thomas Jensen
Producers: Sisse Graum Jørgensen, Vibeke Windeløv
Director of photography: Morten Søborg
Production designer: Peter Grant
Music: Johan Søderqvist
Costume designer: Signe Sejlund
Editors: Pernille Bech Christensen, Morten Egholm
R rating, 116 minutes