As romantic comedies go, Danish helmer Susanne Bier’s follow-up to her Oscar-winning In a Better World, percolates more than it froths – but that’s a good thing. Steeping in its flavors rather than chasing bubbly gags, Love Is All You Need breaks no new narrative ground but trusts the genre’s formulas to provide the underpinnings for a realistic comedy about marriage and its discontents. That the film’s central couple are a middle-aged pair only heightens the film’s sense of realism over idealism, even as Italy’s Amalfi-coast setting where much of the film transpires recalls the romantic surrounding of films such as Under the Tuscan Sun and Mamma Mia!
Since Pierce Brosnan stars here as he did in Mamma Mia!, a certain amount of comparison seems unavoidable, as the viewer might occasionally fear that the actor will break into an uncontrollable burst of song and dance. But have no worries. Philip, the widower Brosnan plays in Love Is All You Need, is a dour businessman who would probably recoil from ABBA even more than he does from his own family and employees. He and Ida (Trine Dyrholm) meet cute in an airport parking garage when she accidentally backs her subcompact into his luxury vehicle. Ida is a cancer survivor who has recently completed breast surgery and chemotherapy, and the uncertainty regarding her future has already put a chink in her naturally sunny disposition. Then she comes home from a hospital appointment to find her husband, Leif (Kim Bodnia), on the couple’s living-room couch schtupping a woman (“Thilde from accounting,” played by Christiane Schaumburg-Muller) half her age. Complicating matters is the upcoming wedding in Italy of their daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) to Patrick (Sebastian Jessen), whom she has only known for three months. Of course, the man she literally bumps into while traveling alone to Italy is none other than the father of the groom, Philip. It’s hardly love at first sight, though: In true romantic-comedy fashion, he thinks she’s an idiot, and she thinks he’s a jerk.
Nothing occurs in Love Is All You Need that you can’t see coming from a mile away. There’s the premarital jitters of the betrothed, the monstrously self-deluded sister-in-law of Philip (Paprika Steen, in a hilarious turn), and Leif’s boorish behavior in bringing his young new squeeze to the wedding. In the hands of a master farceur, these would be the ingredients for rollicking humor. Bier and her screenwriter and regular collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen aim elsewhere. There are smiles and laughter to be found in Love Is All You Need, but they’re not the gossamer sort that evaporate in the moonlight.