Susanne Bier’s latest film, Love is All You Need, takes an accessible, easy-to-digest premise – at their children’s wedding, a man who’s closed himself off to love meets a sympathetic woman whose marriage is falling apart – and makes of it a much better film than it sounds on paper, thanks in no small part to a smart screenplay by Anders Thomas Jensen, who’s just good enough at storytelling to pull it all off. I enjoyed this film quite a lot, although I went into it fully prepared for it to be overly saccharine, based on the catalog description. It’s not. Bier and Jensen have crafted an entertaining little slip of a story here, quite Danish in style and with bit of a humorous bent, and if it’s not taking itself too seriously, well, it is at least entertaining to sit with for a couple hours.
The man in question, Phillip (Pierce Brosnan, whose presence also lends heft to keep things from being too fluffy), is a wealthy trader of fruits, and we learn early on that he’s an emotionally impotent, walled-off jerk who rejects any semblance of kindness or connection from others and treats his employees like chattel. Ida (Trine Dyrholm, previously seen in weightier works A Celebration, Troubled Water, and In a Better World) comes home from her final chemotherapy treatment to find her husband, Leif (Kim Bodnia) on their couch balling Tilde-from-accounting, a hot blond who’s keen to make Leif her own man.
Everybody comes together at the wedding of Phillip’s son Patrick ( Sebastian Jessen) to Ida’s daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind). Also along for the ride is Paprika Steen as Benedikte, Phillip’s brash, brassy sister-in-law, who’s always had a thing for him, and hopes to use the auspicious occasion of the wedding to kindle a little flame of her own. Steen is a terrific actress, one of my favorites of any culture, but Benedikte is so over-the-top that she tends to play a bit more as caricature than character; then again, so is Leif a bit of a caricature, and so is Tilde-from-accounting, so perhaps it was an intentional choice on the part of Bier and Jensen to render the less appealing characters with broader strokes, all the better to contrast and define those that are more firmly on the “good” side – Ida and Phillip, of course, but also Patrick and, especially, Astrid. It all plays a bit like a soap opera, but it’s a mostly entertaining one, and the scenery, especially once everyone goes off to Italy, is stunningly lovely and will make you want to call your travel agent to start planning your next vacation.
I could see this one doing well on the arthouse circuit, boosted by its rom-com-for-older-women sweet spot and the built-in appeal of the undeniably sexy – but also here sometimes bumbling and funny and sweet – Mr. Brosnan. It’s also exactly the kind of nice little film you could easily see some Hollywood studio think about buying remake rights for, after which they would take Jensen’s charming little script, butcher it mightily, cast some older actress (Meg Ryan, perhaps, or if they were sincerely aiming for “good,” maybe Meryl Streep (visions of Mama Mia?) or Toni Collette or Patricia Clarkson in the lead role, and turn it into some overly sentimental, sappy romantic comedy targeted squarely at middle-aged housewives in the Heartland who won’t watch films with subtitles. Here’s hoping that won’t happen; Bier has already done a perfectly fine job here with Jensen’s material, and it wouldn’t hurt some folks to stretch a little and learn to watch films with subtitles anyhow.