Probably the first thing you need to know about Love is All You Need is that it doesn’t include any Beatles songs on its soundtrack. It’s original title is Den skaldede frisør, which seems to roughly translate to “The Bald Hairdresser,” and Love is All You Need is the arbitrary title it got stuck with in English-speaking markets. It is the kind of movie that unashamedly includes multiple uses of the song ‘That’s Amore’ though, so you can probably guess what sort of demographic it’s aiming to hit.
Love is All You Need, in addition to being the new film from co-writer/director Susanne Bier (In a Better World, Things We Lost in the Fire), is a relationship drama about a guy (Sebastien Jessen) and a girl (Molly Blixt Egelind) getting married at a rustic house situated in a lemon grove on the coast of Italy. It’s one of those travelogue movies that’s just as much about showing off an exotic location as it is about digging into all of the neuroses and relationship dramas of the eccentric family members who show up for the wedding. These family members do have quite a few issues though, especially the mother of the bride (Trine Dyrholm), whose husband recently left her for a younger woman after her survival with a bout of cancer, and the father of the groom (Pierce Brosnan), who’s still a prickly, raw wound over the death of his wife, even though it happened many years ago. It’s not a spoiler to say that these two are going to make a love connection.
The most obvious thing to like about Bier’s new film is the visuals it provides. It’s clear that she and her people have eyes for both location scouting and photography, because the movie makes no attempt to hide the fact that at least 20% of it is composed of luxurious, widescreen compositions of gorgeous landscapes. The beauty and scope of the imagery creates an immersive, escapist experience that makes this one of those trips to the cinema that allows you to feel like you’re on vacation. Combine that with its constant use of ‘That’s Amore,’ and it’s not hard to see that the film’s bread and butter is going to be middle-aged housewives whose husbands are too cheap or lazy to take them on romantic getaways. All in all, that’s not a bad demographic to have in your pocket.
There are things here that will appeal to people of other ages and sensibilities though, if they happen to stumble into the theater. It’s true that this is generally a light and squishy romantic movie, but it manages to avoid melodrama or sentimentality almost completely. And it’s true that the story being told is fairly predictable and by the numbers, but there’s still something to be said for a film that sets up expectations and then satisfies them. That’s kind of the whole reason most people go to the movies in the first place. When Dyrholm and Brosnan’s characters get introduced and they’re exact opposites in their dress, demeanor, and choice of automobiles, it’s clear that they’re being set up as a couple, but that doesn’t mean you want them to get together any less – and it doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate how artfully their opposites attract arch is constructed.
The visuals are what hit you first, but the most important and enduring of All You Need is Love’s assets is how authentic it is in its portrayal of human relationships. Some of the characters here are dealing with pretty intense stuff, like cancer scares or repressed homosexuality, but the parts of the film that are truly tense and engaging simply come from how awkward it is to meet new people (you know, on account of how obnoxious and self-obsessed everyone is). There are a handful of moments where various characters are confronting each other that play as being so awkward and emotionally confused that they may as well be right out of real life. The big picture of the film doesn’t add up to much, but some of the little moments are really enjoyable, and that points to the fact that there’s some authenticity to the writing.
One place where the writing makes a misstep, however, is in its portrayal of the characters we’re supposed to hate. The heroes of the piece are adequately complex, but the villains are so irritating and broadly despicable that they come off as cartoonish, and their inclusion in the film feels a bit manipulative. If the obnoxious aunt or the unfaithful husband were in the least bit three-dimensional or self-aware, then this movie might have been a step better, but they end up being so stupid and vile that they make the whole presentation schlockier than it needed to be.
Lastly, we should address the performances. Given the number of the characters and subplots introduced, this is definitely an ensemble piece, and generally everyone does good work in their roles, but Dyrholm ends up becoming the heart and soul of the film. She’s the character who we most sympathize with and her’s is the struggle we’re most invested in. Due to the cancer subplot, her character is the only one whose arch has life or death stakes, so naturally everyone else’s emotional hangups or relationship problems tend to pale in comparison. Happily though, Dyrholm is a strong enough actress to shoulder this load and make everything work. She’s authentic and charming in her role, and she’s always able to keep your sympathies, even when she’s being portrayed as something of a doormat. The scene where she swims naked and bald is certainly more raw and invigoratingly brave than anything Lena Dunham has recently done on HBO. If there’s any reason to see this slightly generic movie, it’s definitely her performance.
The Upside: Even though it doesn’t break any molds, Love is All You Need also doesn’t fall into the usual romantic drama pitfalls of being too sappy or too saccharine. Also: pretty pictures.
The Downside: It’s such a predictable, typical relationship-driven ensemble piece that it’s not likely going to truly engage anyone outside of fans of the genre.
On the Side: Given the fact that Pierce Brosnan lost a wife to cancer, and this movie sees his character dealing with the loss of a wife as well as romancing a woman who’s battling cancer, he’s called it the most personal role he’s ever taken. When talking about losing his wife, he told The Daily Mail, “I went through it all, very publicly. Such things draw a mark across your heart and it’s always a part of your life. To watch someone you love have their life eaten away – bit by bit, by this insidious and horrid disease – becomes an indelible part of your psyche. It certainly did for me and, of course, when I received this script, the challenge of playing this part was not lost on me.”