The message behind most romantic comedies is the simple-minded sentiment that love is all you need. So when Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier takes that title for a departure from somber drama to romance, you might expect her to deliver it with some serious irony.
Yet in Bier’s “Love Is All You Need,” it turns out that love really is all you need. And like any old rom-com, it’s the just-add-water, instant mush variety of love that springs up between the unlikeliest of partners because, hey, you’re in the theater to see a love story.
This is several steps above the usual Hollywood romance, with nice low-key passion between Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm as prospective in-laws who connect during chaotic preparations for their children’s wedding. Bier and regular screenwriting partner Anders Thomas Jensen dress things up with gorgeous postcard images of Sorrento, Italy, lovely music, elegant production design and deeper complications and entanglements than we typically see in a screen fling.
It’s still standard stuff, though: mostly predictable, mostly gooey, and mostly unlike anything resembling our own clunky tales of amour. The film is gentle and good-hearted, but despite a few solemn themes of illness and infidelity, it never rises above slight and diverting.
Split between dialogue in English and Danish with subtitles, “Love Is All You Need” presents a quick, formulaic introduction to the characters and their issues. Philip (Brosnan) is a British produce importer in Copenhagen who has buried himself in work since his wife’s death years earlier, choosing to live in lonely anger that distances him from adoring co-workers and his son Patrick (Sebastian Jessen).
Ida (Dyrholm) is a hairdresser finishing chemo for breast cancer who discovers her husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) is cheating on her with a young bombshell (Christiane Schaumburg-Muller).
They’re all off to Italy, where Ida and Leif’s daughter, Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) is preparing to wed Patrick at a villa Philip owns but has neglected since he lost his wife.
Philip and Ida begin at odds, though it’s clear from the start that Bier and Jensen aim to bring this odd pair together. Cut in the Mr. Darcy, misanthrope-with-a-heart-of-gold mold, Brosnan shows off a quiet charm and weary melancholy while maintaining some of the panache of his James Bond days. Dyrholm, who starred in Bier’s 2010 foreign-language Academy Award winner “In a Better World,” balances a wide-eyed mix of bitterness, befuddlement and bemusement over the hurts life suddenly throws at Ida, an open heart whose obstacles steel her to wring more out of whatever time she has left.
These two have no business hitting it off, let alone drifting into love over a long, comedy-of-errors weekend. It’s never really believable, but when it comes to screen romance, what is?
The easy affinity Brosnan and Dyrholm manage between Philip and Ida carries the story along well enough, and the glowing travelogue presented in cinematographer Morten Soborg’s scenery is an ideal backdrop for fairy-tale romance to bloom in middle-age.
The secondary relationships are fairly standard — boorish awkwardness as Leif shows up with his mistress, weepy reservations as Astrid and Patrick have second thoughts about marrying.
Paprika Steen stands out as Philip’s self-absorbed, amorous sister-in-law, somehow imbuing a really horrible woman with traces of pathos when she gets the brutal chastisement she so clearly deserves.
It’s refreshing to see Bier lighten up after a string of grave melodramas that include “Brothers,” ”After the Wedding” and “Things We Lost in the Fire.” She handles her love story with the same style and class, though it’s disappointing she doesn’t find a way to go deeper than the conventional pleasantries she explores here.
Yet if love is all you need, you could do worse than spending time with the pretty people and pictures of “Love Is All You Need.”
“Love Is All You Need,” a Sony Pictures Classics release, is rated R for brief sexuality, nudity and some language. Running time: 116 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.