Director Susanne Bier follows her Oscar winning “In a Better World,” about bullying in Denmark having kinship to the misdeeds of warlords in Africa, with a romance. Talk about stepping clear of your comfort zone.
The generally dramatic Bier (“Things We Lost in Fire”) gives a dark edge to the melodramatic comedy “Love Is All You Need.” From the opening strains of “That’s Amore,” forlournly played on a mandolin, it’s obvious that this will not be “Mamma Mia! II” set in sunny Italy.
Ida (Trine Dyrholm of “A Royal Affair” and “In a Better World”) is just out of her last blast of chemotherapy. She’s lost a breast and her hair. But this Copenhagen hairdresser’s nearly-clean bill of health is spoiled when she catches her husband with a younger woman. And she can’t toss a fit about it, because her daughter (Molly Blixt Egelind) is getting married in a rustic villa in the south of Italy.
Wouldn’t you know it, that workaholic, widowed businessman Phillip (Pierce Brosnan) she collided with at the airport parking deck is the father of the groom (Sebastian Jessen). He’s irked most of the time and this really sets him off. Naturally, they’re thrown together on the flight, and when they reach Italy, where her soon-to-be-ex shows up with his floozie, and the frosty, “I have chosen to be alone” Phillip is stuck dealing with the Danish inlaws of his late wife.
Bier is so much more comfortable with the dramatic stuff that the film’s grabber moments are revelations — the damage cancer has done to Ida, the liberation (she skinny dips) she wants to feel but cannot.
Brosnan does a nice bit of weathered resignation here — playing a man wounded, bitter and wound too tight. Dyrholm brings a wide-eyed wonder to Ida’s reactions to Phillip’s brusqueness, as if she can’t stand the thought of the guy but cannot help but feel lucky that he’s showing her some attention. He’s out of her league.
Their chemistry is passable, and there’s a nice subtle metaphor about the lemon orchard this villa sits in (Phillip, a fruit and vegetable importer, owns it) and what Ida does when life hands her lemons. She makes lemon pudding.
The script is full of surprises that might have delivered a farce, in different hands. But Bier keeps the humiliations, heartbreak and fear all too real. Little is played for laughs. It’s almost jarring when we take a break from the threads of the plot to enjoy some Sorrento scenery and Sorrento sunsets.
It works, after a fashion — a romance that isn’t a romantic comedy. But Bier, a wonderful director, proves that “Love” isn’t all you need to make us swoon. You need a lighter touch.
MPAA Rating:R for brief sexuality, nudity and some language
Cast: Trine Dyrholm, Pierce Brosnan, Molly Blixt Egelind
Credits: Directed by Susanne Bier, written by Anders Thomas Jensen and Susanne Bier. A Sony Classics release.
Running time: 1:56