If for some reason you were hoodwinked into seeing “The Big Wedding,” maybe it’s time for a small one: The slight, modestly absorbing “Love Is All You Need” trots out some conceits and conventions similar to its overstuffed Hollywood cousin, but does so with such tenderness that it feels like a healing balm.
Filmmaker Susanne Bier won an Oscar a few years ago for “In a Better World,” her haunting meditation on violence. She positions “Love Is All You Need” as a 180-degree turn into romantic comedy, but there aren’t many laugh-out-loud moments to be had here. Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a middle-aged hairdresser in Copenhagen, is grappling with crises both medical and marital when she embarks on a trip to Italy for the wedding of her daughter, Astrid. Philip (Pierce Brosnan), a widowed fruit-and-vegetable magnate, is making the same journey. “Love Is All You Need” centers mostly on the busy wedding weekend — which transpires in an elegantly shabby villa in a picturesque seaside town — and the emotions that roil beneath the happy surface, having to do with betrayal, unrequited passion, regret and at least one case of unresolved sexual orientation.
With its surfeit of brightly colored rooms and Bier’s leitmotif of photographing her protagonists on their separate terraces, “Love Is All You Need” has all the earmarks of a classic romantic farce. But the filmmaker — here working with frequent co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen — doesn’t have a gift for screwball comedy, instead observing the missed signals, chance encounters and explosive outbursts with the seasoned eye of an innate dramatist (she cut her teeth as part of the adamantly neo-realist Dogme 95 movement). The result is a film that looks intimate but feels oddly diffident and removed.
As Ida, Dyrholm is all blond hair and bright blue eyes, a facade that gives way in the film’s most disarming and touching moments. Brosnan plays the saturnine Philip with the pained expression of a man trying to pass a kidney stone without anyone noticing. To her credit, Bier never forces Ida and Philip into false histrionic coupling. Rather, Philip simply gravitates toward Ida’s forthright equanimity, which stands out in ever sharper relief as the weekend’s highly-pitched festivities wear on.
Rather than give her protagonists vivid interior lives, Bier defines them in relation to the satellite characters who circle them: Ida’s feckless husband, Leif (Kim Bodnia), her lissome daughter, Astrid (Molly Blixt Egeland in a wonderfully floaty performance), and, especially, Philip’s ardent sister-in-law, Benedikte, played by Paprika Steen with fearlessly blowsy directness.
There are few surprises in “Love Is All You Need,” other than the understated way Bier treats moments that in mainstream cinema would be overplayed and underlined (and italicized in case you missed the point). Like the lemons that appear throughout the film as a visual and thematic motif, “Love Is All You Need” embraces the bitter with the sweet. Its idea of escapist romantic fantasy is to recognize the most sour of life’s circumstances and simply make lemonade.
R. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema.
Contains brief sexuality, nudity and some profanity. In English and Danish with subtitles.