If it is true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, then it also stands to reason that you shouldn’t judge a movie by its title.
If you did, you might pass right over the limply named “Love Is All You Need,” figuring it for just some skimpy, formulaic rom-com starring the latest graduate of the Disney Channel. And if you did that, you would miss out on something truly special: a simple but luscious romantic movie about a couple for whom love is anything but easy.
Danish director Susanne Bier, whose critically acclaimed previous work (“Brothers”) has covered much heavier topics, proves to have a knack for lighter fare, as well. She takes all the familiar tropes of the rom-com genre and turns them deftly on end. The result is a charming, elegant and touching tale about finding love, losing love and ultimately getting on with your life.
Ida (Trine Dyrholm) is a middle-aged hairdresser in Copenhagen who is cautiously optimistic about the results of her post-radiation and chemotherapy tests and eager to travel to Italy for her daughter’s spur-of-the-moment wedding. But the trip doesn’t get off to a great start. After discovering her husband, Leif (Kim Bodnia), in flagrante delicto with Thilde from accounting, a clearly rattled Ida is left to make the trip on her own. Before she even makes it to the airport, she gets in a fender-bender with a tightly wound English businessman who has little patience for her dithering or her tears.
It seems that Philip (Pierce Brosnan) is in a rush to catch a plane for Italy himself – his son is getting married. When they realize their children are about to marry each other, they retreat to their respective corners and do their best to behave civilly to one another.
As the wedding weekend proceeds, some not-unexpected complications crop up to threaten the nuptial bliss. But while an unexpected guest, embarrassing behavior by unrestrained relatives and rather severe prewedding jitters are distracting the guests, Ida and Philip move tentatively and tantalizingly toward each other.
Whether because of the foreignness of the film’s setting (which puts Copenhagen and coastal Italy on glorious display), or the unfamiliarity of the film’s European cast (who all have a refreshingly nonhomogenized appeal) or the sincere candor of the script, “Love Is All You Need” comes off as much less hackneyed and predictable than it would have under the hands of a Hollywood filmmaker.
Bier manages to pay subtle and fleeting homage to wedding-themed precursors such as “Moonstruck” and “Mama Mia!” without ever seeming derivative.
She coaxes splendid performances out of the entire cast, from the two stars right down to the extras. The film’s leads, especially, portray their emotionally bruised characters with touching honesty and not a whit of self-consciousness. Brosnan, looking even more dashing than he did as Remington Steele, is the sole familiar face in the crowd here, and proves he had the chops to be a movie leading man all along. He ably conveys Philip’s evolution from a man emotionally frozen by grief to one slowly unveiling his pained vulnerability. When his character finally begins to smile, you feel yourself grinning, too.
Dyrholm’s Ida gives Philip – as well as the audience – plenty to smile about. Subtle plays of emotion flit across her broad, lovely face, which has expressive blue eyes the size of dinner plates as its hallmark. Ida is a complicated melange of strength, resilience, awkwardness, fear and uncertainty, and the actress conveys all with graceful delicacy.
Also worth noting among a noteworthy cast are Molly Blixt Egelind as the ethereal bride-to-be Astrid, and Paprika Steen as Philip’s brassy, misguided sister-in-law, Benedikte.
The only sour note in this otherwise delightful film is the soundtrack, which features a heavy-handed use of “That’s Amore,” and, oddly, no use of the song from which it takes its name.
It’s perhaps worth noting that the film’s Danish title, “The Bald Hairdresser,” is only slightly less awful than it’s English one.
But by any name, this film is a winner.
love is all you need
Three and a half stars (Out of four)
Starring: Pierce Brosnan, Trine Dyrholm
Director: Susanne Bier
Running time: 110 minutes
Rating: R for brief sexuality, nudity and some profanity.
The Lowdown: After a hairdresser with cancer learns her husband is cheating on her, she travels to Italy for her daughter’s wedding and meets an angry widower.