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Thu May 2, 2013
'Love Is All You Need,' Unless Character Matters
When a husband steps out on his wife while she's getting chemo, she's entitled to a weekend in the Mediterranean with Pierce Brosnan, right?
Right, but I believe he went there quite recently with Meryl Streep, did he not, albeit without the cancer? I didn't much care for Mamma Mia!, but the garish musical at least embraced its vulgarity with a full heart and a toe-tapping ABBA soundtrack. And now that I've seen Love Is All You Need, I'd settle for Streep doing the splits.
The bland new rom-com from Danish director Susanne Bier (In a Better World) embraces little more than a fetish for orange suns tastefully rising and setting over the Amalfi Coast — I counted six, and that's probably lowballing it — while two troubled souls struggle with obstreperous relatives and a bundle of unresolved life issues apparently snatched from the nearest airport bookstore.
The actors' discomfort doesn't help. All but holding his nose, Brosnan plays Philip, a British stiff living in Denmark who's buried himself in running a thriving fresh-produce company — cucumber jokes abound, followed briskly by radish jokes — in order to avoid facing his grief over the death of his beloved wife. However ripe he may be for the plucking, Philip has resolved to play sad-sack for the rest of his days: "I've done all the tangoing I'm ever going to do," he says, and given his efforts in Mamma Mia, this comes as a distinct relief.
As luck and clumsy plotting would have it, breast cancer survivor Ida — she's played by Trine Dyrholm, a very good dramatic actress who looks desperately uncomfortable doing comedy — backs her car into his just as they both arrive to board a plane for the Italian wedding of her daughter and his son.
Despite her husband's recent cavorting with "Tilde from Accounting," Ida is a chipper spirit. We know this because she drives an egg-yolk-yellow car, wears pink cardies over floral shifts, and, in flagrant disregard for Danish modern, decorates her house in cheerfully mismatched reds and blues.
In true Jane Austen fashion (if it were a Harlequinized version), the down-to-earth Ida is initially oblivious to the craggy rich guy being dangled before her. Chemistry sparks only after the requisite hostilities and a parade of stale plot complications involving the cool-footed young bride and groom, the feckless husband and a loud sister-in-law (Dogme diva Paprika Steen) who provokes a brush-off speech from Philip so nastily off-key it took my breath away.
Stolidly directed by Bier, Love Is All You Need works its way though an assemblage of emotional ingredients cobbled together to hit the date-movie saccharine spot with young and middle-aged moviegoers, each in their assigned slots.
For the youth of today: Should I get hitched if the spark is missing? Maybe I'm gay? How come I still resent my distant dad? For the elders: the Big C, infidelity, death, grief, loneliness, how to move on from the above.
Screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, who has kept company with Bier on her steady ascent from edgy Dogme fare to the pricier halls of Indiewood, has sewn all this together with dialogue drawn straight from the self-help shelves (Child: "How did you know Dad was the right one?" Parent: "There are no guarantees in life.")
Not in life, perhaps, but the outcome here is a lock from the word go. There can be no spoilers in a movie as guileless and by-the-numbers as this one. That Love Is All You Need comes in praise of optimism amid life's uncertainties will surprise no one, nor is that a bad idea in itself. At least two fine movies — Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky and Whit Stillman's Damsels in Distress — have mined that territory with far more verve and originality in (relatively) recent years. But the happiness that falls into place in Love Is All You Need feels more like a chiropractic realignment than a passionate joining of romantic destinies.
Bier and Jensen haven't given much thought to what it takes to stay happy in this world; they've just moved some stick figures around a playing board marked trouble, crisis, love. If you want to see a good movie about the importance of a positive outlook, you may want to sit this one out and wait for the enchanting Frances Ha, coming right up.