Wednesday, September 18, 2013

FI: Love Is All You Need

Love Is All You Need / Den skaldede frisør
Denmark/Sweden/Italy/France/Germany, 2012
Directed by Susanne Bier

Romantic comedies are a tricky proposition. After all, their beats are so familiar, their plotting so well-worn, that sometimes, the line between liking one and hating it comes down to the mood you bring into the screening. Obviously, the filmmakers and cast can have a say in improving or sustaining that mood, whether through cleverer-than-expected writing, strong performances, or even a deft handling of tone, but a lot of the onus falls to the audience. Director Susanne Bier was once more accustomed to pushing audiences than accomodating them, getting her start in Denmark's Dogme 95 movement—the challenging, barebones filmmaking philosophy championed by Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier, among others. But she has since moved on to more commercial fare, and Love Is All You Need is almost certainly the most broadly-appealing film of her career.

The film stars Trine Dyrholm as Ida, a hairdresser who has just completed treatment for breast cancer and is awaiting an official all-clear. In spite of that, she seems vibrant, bubbly, and open. So open, in fact, as to almost be able to overlook her husband Leif's (Kim Bodnia) infidelity on the eve of their daughter Astrid's (Molly Blixt Egelind) Italian wedding to Patrick (Sebastian Jessen). While parking at the airport, Ida literally crashes into Philip (Pierce Brosnan), Patrick's distant, moody, widowed father, whose business and marriage both began in the very lemon groves where the wedding will take place. If you were to guess, right now, where the film intends to take this pair of seeming opposites, you'll probably be right. That predictability hints at Love Is All You Need's biggest flaw: Anders Thomas Jensen's script is filled with just about every rom-com trope you could imagine. Even though Bier's tone and Morten Søborg's ludicrously sunny, saturated cinematography camouflage some of the script's cliches, nearly every character's intentions are telegraphed from the start. That it seems to borrow themes, plot elements, and even one actor from the wildly-successful Mamma Mia! only makes this worse.

In spite of that, I found myself enjoying the film. This is largely because its leads turn in fantastic, nuanced performances that elevate the world around them. As Philip, Pierce Brosnan somehow gives layers to a character that could easily come across as unpleasant or inconsistent. Watch the subtle expressions that cross his face, listen to the modulations in his tone of voice: it's some of the best work of his career. Dyrholm, meanwhile, plays a character that could be a pushover or a ditz in the wrong hands, but she imbues Ida with a core of strength and kindness that carries over her underlying health and relationship fears. It's their show, and they nearly pull it off. Nearly. Love Is All You Need won't change anyone's mind about the state of rom-coms, or break any ground in terms of what these films are capable of, but if you surrender to its warm moments and the leads' excellent work, it's a pleasant enough watch. Sometimes, that's enough.

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