A rom-com for realist romantics, Susanne Bier’s Love Is All You Need sees love blossom alongside life’s trials and tribulations.
Before The Wedding by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
It’s in Napoli, where love is king, that Susanne Bier has decided to set her lemon-scented romantic comedy Love Is All You Need, which as it turns out, is both sharp and sweet. While its English title aims for upbeat evasiveness, its Danish title Den Skaldede Frisør, or The Bald Hairdresser, hints at the darker side of her bilingual comedy of a hairdresser coming out the other side of cancer. And with a sublime peformance from Trine Dyrholm straight from In A Better World, Susanne Bier’s previous film, Love Is All You Need is a fresh and zesty look at surviving life’s hard knocks, middle-aged romance and female empowerment.
Awaiting results for the all-clear from the big C and discovering her husband Leif in bed with Tilde from accounting, hairdresser Ida heads off to Naples for her daughter Astrid’s wedding. En route, she bumps (literally, in the airport carpark) into the groom Patrick’s father Philip. And rattled and luggage-less, she arrives on the Capri coast to get her life back on track. As the wedding celebrations begin, Leif arrives with his self-proclaimed fiancée as well as Philip’s viperous sister-in-law Benedikte. But there’s trouble in paradise – as Philip and Ida circle each other with thawing hostility and hesitant longing, as Benedikte confesses her love for her brother-in-law and as Patrick falls for local Italian boy Alessandro.
Set to the mandolin-strummed melody of Dean Martin’s That’s Amore, love is set firmly centrestage in Susanne Bier’s film, as Ida and Leif attempt to hide their failing marriage from their grown-up children, desperate to preserve its image and not to overshadow their daughter Astrid’s wedding with the spectre of an oh -so-unromantic divorce. And it’s a complicated business, at times egotistic and unrequited, such as Benedikte’s ingratiating love for her boss and late sister’s husband. Or confused, like Patrick’s three-month romance with Astrid, his desire for her paling in comparison with his desire to have a party, please his father and his burgeoning interest in men. And yet, despite the magazine-spread, shabby chic villa, set in a rustic lemon grove in Campania, Love Is All You Need isn’t overly syrupy, its unfulfilled loves blighted by self-ignorance or the unromantic shadows of cancer and death.
As the woman on the verge of hope – for a clean bill of health, a new start and a blossoming romance, Trine Dyrholm’s Ida is a towering life force of humanity and strength. Gently acerbic, motherly and gingerly flirtatious, Ida is a heartwarming example of nerves, frustration and female empowerment, swimming naked and without her wig in a bay on the Capri coast and emerging like a modern Venus – bruised but refusing to be broken. She’s matched by magnificent performances from Kim Bodnia, as her feckless husband Leif, all teary-eyed egotism, and Paprika Steen as Benedikte, with her peerless performance of another vicious, self-centred woman (like her wonderful alcoholic Thea in Applaus) urging her drunk daughter to make herself sick so she can go back to the party, and yet softened by an unbearably embarrassing moment of gritted-teeth vulnerability.
While men are generally feeling sorry for themselves, with Philip embalmed in a lifetime of grief and Patrick immobilised by indecision, women are the catalysts for change behind Love Is All You Need, Ida divorcing her husband with matter-of-fact clarity – “Your lies will make me fat, old and unhappy” before returning to Philip and his lemon grove to start a new life. Den Skaldede Frisør is a celebration of womanhood; Ida sharp enough to turn the lemons life throws her way (like the lump Ida finds on her neck or the dress she’s forced to repeatedly wear when the airline loses her luggage) into a lemonade of effervescent defiance. Like the opening titles turning the world yellow, Ida casts the world in her own sunshine hue, a citrus able to channel her own destiny into both oranges and lemons. Susanne Bier’s script is sassy enough to stay one step ahead of traditional rom-coms, and while Love Is All You Need could easily veer into saccharine, it’s just sharp enough to serve up a refreshing, intoxicating draught.
Love Is All You Need is released on 19th April 2013 in the UK