Love is All You Need
4 out of 4 stars
"Love is All You Need" is the type of movie we're lucky enough to get only about once about every two or three years. It's a smart (but not elitist) romantic drama with lots of strategically placed, razor-sharp comedy that examines the human condition in a delicately firm manner that flatly refuses to talk down or pander to the audience.
If there is anything to find fault with, it is the title. Although it is a line from the Beatles' tune "All You Need Is Love," that song is never referenced to and, truth be told, it is forgettable and painfully generic. It was likely chosen by a mid-level marketer that was given the unenviable chore of coming up with something safe and safe it is -- like mother's milk. The actual title is "Den skaldede frisor" which is Dutch and translates into English as "The Bald Hairdresser." It's far more interesting to be sure but also one that could turn off most romance movie fans.
Because it takes so many welcomed left-hand turns along the way and is far more character-driven, let's not go into deep detail regarding the plot. This is a movie that is heavy on atmosphere and could singlehandedly increase tourism to the Amalfi-coast region of Italy ten-fold before year's end. In a manner not dissimilar in look from "Under the Tuscan Sun" or "Room with a View," it is mesmerizingly hypnotic and thoroughly seductive. Few movies have ever taken such advantage of their landscape as well and with such loving detail as this one.
Before it ever gets to Italy, it starts out in the stark, efficient-but-chilly, concrete, glass and steel confines of Holland. This is where we're introduced to Philip (Pierce Brosnan), the taciturn founder of a huge produce distributor who, based on the timeline laid out in the film, was organic and a foodie long before those cripplingly trendy terms became tragically vogue.
A widower with a steamship full of pent-up, percolating anger, Philip is not even close to being a nice guy, but is passably civil. Polite but clipped and deliberate with his speech, he makes it clear he doesn't suffer fools gladly and just wants to be left the (bleep) alone. An early scene where he tastefully dresses down his possibly amorous secretary is something any budding screenwriter should review repeatedly. It wouldn't be going far out on a limb to state that this is by far the bravest and most daring choice in roles the generally lightweight Brosnan has ever made.
At the same time in Holland we have Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a woman who could easily pass for Cindy Lou Who ("How the Grinch Stole Christmas") had she grown up to be a 40-year-old flesh-and-blood human. With azure orbs that look out on life as if for the first time, Ida reveals everything yet nothing at the same time. She is a complicated blank slate; a person penetrated and wounded from life's cruel dealer, but also optimistic as the day she was born. It is a virtuoso performance and one more than worthy of an Oscar. Dyrholm is bliss incarnate.
Philip and Ida have a movie "meet cute" moment at an airport parking lot that would be totally dismissive had it not been so jarring and anti-rom-com. Their first encounter is something out of a bad thriller but also serves as the most unconventional and uncomfortable of all cinematic introductions.
Why Ida and Philip are brought together is important to the plot, but, in the great scheme of things, what goes on around them is all just well-orchestrated window dressing. Director Susanne Bier and her frequent co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen craft two people that are of AARP eligibility age and turn them into innocent-but-wise newborn kindred spirits. When you've come out on the other side of loss and/or heartbreak intact, it gives you a different perspective and makes you realize it's never too late to start anew. Luckily for all of us, love has no expiration date and once you have it, almost everything else becomes irrelevant.
Presented in Dutch, English and Italian with English subtitles. (Sony Classics)