You know the formula: A man and a woman who are polar opposites meet by accident and take an instant dislike to each other. Gradually as each gets to know the other, romance starts to blossom and voila, opposites attract.
beneath the cheesy title lies an engaging dramedy
That’s the set up in Susanne Bier’s Love is All You Need. But beneath the cheesy title lies an engaging dramedy which offers several fresh twists on an old theme, although no one will be shocked at the outcome.
For one thing, the protagonists are middle aged: a wealthy widower who is resigned to being single, and a woman who thought she was happily married until she catches her husband of 23 years bonking an improbably young, blonde, airheaded co-worker.
For another, Pierce Brosnan eschews his usual smooth, charming persona to play a character who, at least initially, is a brusque sourpuss, bordering on a misanthropist.
The screenplay by Bier’s regular collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen focuses much more on the frailties and vulnerabilities of the two leads and their offspring, and on the tensions that complicate various relationships, than on chasing easy laughs.
Even with that element of pathos, it’s a far more optimistic and joyous film than the Danish director’s previous outing, the Oscar-winning In a Better World. That film’s Trine Dyrholm is wonderfully appealing here as Ida, a hairdresser who’s recovering from breast cancer when she catches her chubby husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) in flagrante on the sofa with Tilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Muller).
The timing is particularly awkward because Ida and Leif are due to fly to Sorrento in Italy for the wedding of their daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) to a fellow named Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) after a whirlwind courtship.
Travelling separately, Ida gets to the airport and while parking promptly reverses her car into one driven by Philip (Brosnan), a fruit-and-vegetable magnate. Sparks fly and, in a convenient coincidence, it turns out Philip is the father of the groom-to-be.
At Philip’s rustic villa in sunny Sorrento, Ida gets a rude shock when Leif turns up with Tilde, who introduces herself as his fiancée. After Philip spots Ida swimming nude, minus her wig which reveals a bald pate, his attitude towards her gradually softens. But tempers flare around them, with much of the discord generated by Philip’s sister-in-law Benedikte (Paprika Steen), a loud, tactless and bombastic woman who clearly has designs on him.
It’s a marvellous performance by Steen, alternating between raucous humour, cringe-making embarrassment and a touching loneliness. There’s a cruel streak to the way the character is written, which sits uncomfortably with the film’s generally light tone.
Frederikke Thomassen is superb as Benedikte’s sullen teenage daughter, whose jibes and grimaces are amusing rather than off-putting.
Brosnan handles the role with his usual flair but his character’s transformation from an uptight, workaholic curmudgeon to a caring, sensitive and kind man is a trifle hard to swallow despite a belated explanation for his angry outlook on life.
At least Dyrholm is a constant, radiating warm-heartedness, candour and a quiet strength, and there’s a persuasive chemistry between the two.
Jessen is a bit weedy and bland as Patrick, an odd pairing with Egelind’s outgoing, effervescent Astrid, but that casting makes more sense as the narrative unfolds.
The frequent use of Perry Como’s dreadful, mushy 'That’s Amore’ is irritating, but I guess it’s meant to be ironic.
Cinematographer Morten Søborg dwells on the picture-postcard scenery of the Amalfi coast, with saturated colours that echo Mamma Mia! At least Brosnan isn’t called on to sing this time.