He’s been a natty and impressively businesslike 007; he’s dutifully played supporting parts in stuff like Mrs. Doubtfire and The Mirror Has Two Faces; and he’s been superb in a couple of leading roles, notably The Tailor of Panama.
He even carries the distinction, in a cast full of embarrassments, of having given the most embarrassing performance in Mamma Mia!
Yet at some level I’m not sure that Pierce Brosnan has ever completely shaken the initial image we’ve had of him, as a pleasantly suave romantic-comedy lightweight, on TV’s Remington Steel. His turn in writer-director Susanne Bier’s Danish film, titled Love Is All You Need in English, could change that, however—if enough people see it.
Or, on the other hand, maybe not. Even if the movie, opening this weekend at Harkins Camelview, was a hit, Brosnan might not get the acclaim he deserves for this performance.
He plays the role of a bereaved widower with such honorable restraint and low-key balance, such a lack of histrionics, that his excellence might get overlooked.
Brosnan is Philip, a high-powered expat produce broker in Copenhagen. It’s been 26 years since the death of his wife, but Philip is still furious about it, and Brosnan manages to make us feel that anger without ever resorting to actorish telegraphing.
He doesn’t grit his teeth or narrow his eyes; he’s too accustomed to his fury for that. It’s just there, in the faintly rising tension in his voice, in the little smile you often see on somebody when they’re about to explode.
His vents his rage through belittling insults and brutal honesty, heavy on the brutality, to his employees. When hairdresser Ida (Trine Dyrholm) backs into his car in an airport parking lot, it’s a great opportunity for him rave at her—but she’s so shell-shocked and vulnerable that he can’t keep it up.
His manner toward her softens at once. Then he finds out that she’s catching the same flight he is, to Italy, for a wedding. He’s the father of the groom, and she’s the mother of the bride.
This seemed to me at first like a contrived specimen of the romantic-comedy “meet-cute,” but the actors make it convincing. By the time Ida and Philip have reached southern Italy, and are sharing a car from the airport to Philip’s beautiful-but-disused old coastal lemon farm that his son (Sebastian Jessen) and Ida’s daughter (Molly Blixt Egelind) are fixing up for the wedding, Philip even makes a clumsy try at complimenting Ida.
Before long he’s opened up to her about the circumstances of his wife’s death. Philip is awkward and uncomfortable around his son, and he openly loathes his sister-in-law (Paprika Steen), who’s shamelessly trying to get her hooks into him.
But something about Ida brings out the best in him—and something about the role brings out the best in Brosnan. It may, indeed, be personal experience—it wasn’t until days after I saw the film that I remembered that Brosnan’s real-life first wife died of cancer in the early ‘90s.
For English-language audiences, Brosnan’s work here is the story about the film, but he isn’t really the star of Love Is All You Need. Trine Dyrholm’s Ida is. Indeed, in Danish Ida is the title character: Das Skaldede Frisor, or, The Bald Hairdresser.
Ida’s bald—under a fine blond wig–because she’s a cancer and chemo veteran. She’s gone to her daughter’s wedding alone because a few days earlier she came home to tell her husband Leif (Kim Bodnia) that she was in remission, only to find him fooling around with a much younger woman. She’s confident that Leif will return to her, until he shows up at the wedding with the young mistress as his date.
I was unfamiliar with Dyrholm, a major star in Denmark, but she’s a revelation. Wide-eyed and gently smiling, she radiates kindness and honesty. Ida’s misfortunes have left her soul as exposed as her scalp, but both remain beautiful.
Nothing that ensues in the plot is especially surprising, but Bier’s touch, both with the dialogue and the direction, is strikingly observant.
There are moments—cringe-inducing toasts, bungled propositions, arguments between mortified people—that feel almost painfully naturalistic. This movie has loose ends and rough edges, and may not convince you that love is truly all you need.
But it makes a good case that love is, finally, what matters most.