Love is All You Need

June 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Trine Dyrholm, Pierce Brosnan, Molly Blixt Egelind
Directed by: Susanne Bier (“In a Better World”)
Written by: Anders Thomas Jensen (“In a Better World”)

Known mostly for hard-hitting dramas like her Oscar-winning 2011 film “In a Better World” and the underappreciated 2007 tearjerker “Things We Lost in the Fire,” Danish director Susanne Bier gives her take on what a romantic comedy should be in the sweet but often emotionally unfulfilling “Love is All You Need.” While her foray into the genre can be considered a mixed bag, Bier is able to pull some convincing performances from her lead actors, Pierce Brosnan (“The Ghost Writer”) and Trine Dyrholm (“A Royal Affair”), to make up for the cliché and predictable moments in Anders Thomas Jensen’s script.

In “Love,” which is in both English and Danish, Dyrholm plays Ida, an afflicted hairdresser who finds out her husband is cheating on her during her visits to the doctor for cancer treatment. As her marriage falls apart, another is about to get underway. Her daughter Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind) is getting married in Italy to Patrick (Sebastian Jessen), a man she has only recently met. Also scheduled to attend their wedding is Patrick’s workaholic father Philip (Brosnan) who has given the happy couple permission to use the family’s rustic villa for the ceremony.

When Ida and Philip coincidentally meet before they even get on the plane to Italy, it’s fairly easy to see where Jensen is going. In a sort of “Meet the Fockers”-type setup, things are bound to get messy and awkward as the two families collide in an all-too-familiar way. Fortunately, Bier doesn’t stoop to the level of something like “Madea’s Big Happy Family” when gathering the parties together. It’s not that kind of comedy. But there are scenes in “Love” that feel just as sitcom-friendly as Tyler Perry can deliver. Bier’s ability to divert most of these scenarios even when Jensen’s screenplay calls for them is noteworthy. For example, when Astrid’s father shows up to the villa with his new and much younger girlfriend in tow, things could have easily become sillier than necessary. Bier, however, proves even though she is new to the genre, she can keep most of her characters grounded and believable.

Brosnan and Dyrholm are perfectly fine on their own, but when brought together, the lighthearted romance brewing between them isn’t as emotionally satisfying as it should be. There is an underlying connection both have with one another (Philip has lost his wife; Ida has lost her marriage and health), but spending quiet time in each other’s company doesn’t do much to build on their relationship nor does it make for interesting conflict.

Love may be all one needs when life doesn’t go exactly as planned and someone is left to start all over again, but Bier, at this point in her career, isn’t the one that should be trying to inject the story with the kind of subtle comedy the film needs to be more than a blip on the foreign rom-com radar. It’s a passable attempt, but even a slightly above-average date with someone isn’t always a memorable one.

In a Better World

May 13, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Markus Rygaard, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Mikael Persbrandt
Directed by: Susanne Bier (“After the Wedding”)
Written by: Anders Thomas Jensen (“After the Wedding”)

There’s no need to run behind mommy’s skirt anymore. It looks as if politicians and human rights activists are finally taking up the cause of the trombone-playing bookworm with the funny haircut who packs his lunch every day.

Everywhere you turn, it seems like someone is kick-starting a new anti-bullying campaign. There’s an Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights in New Jersey, mandatory anti-bullying curriculum in Vallejo, Calif., and anti-bullying summits at the White House. Some public libraries are even stocking up on children’s books like “Don’t be a Bully, Billy.”

Here in Texas, Houston state Senator John Whitmire’s anti-bullying bill that would make school districts responsible for keeping Timmy’s head out of the toilet passed the Senate last week.And while it’s smooth sailing for Timmy now, I can’t help but wonder where the hell all of you were back in 1991 when Jesse Davila, the only 7th grader I knew who could grow a full goatee overnight, was handing me my ass at least once a week. Where was the piece of paper saving me from that wedgie, swirly, or greasy finger in the middle of my Salisbury steak?

The lack of state assistance I received helps me sympathize with 12-year-old Elias (Markus Rygaard), the tormented kid at the center of Danish director Susanne Bier’s Academy Award- and Golden Globe-winning foreign-language film “In a Better World.” While “World” takes a more multifaceted approach to the issue, it’s evident from the uncompromising themes — whether they’re set on a playground or in a suffering Third World country — Bier has plenty to say about humanity’s penchant for violence and intimidation.

Unlike the students of today, Elias isn’t protected by any sociopolitical crusade by the educational system. His safeguard comes in the form of Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen), a new boy who has moved from London to Denmark with his father (Ulrich Thomsen) after the death of his mother. Expressing his grief through anger and aggression, Christian is fearless when confronted by the campus bully Sofus (Simon Maagaard Holm), a schoolyard thug Elias’ mom Marianne (Trine Dyrholm) describes as a “sadistic psychopath.”

“If you hit him, he hits you, and then you hit him, and then it never ends,” Christian’s concerned father explains when Christian is questioned by cops after beating Sofus with a bicycle pump. “Don’t you see? That’s how wars are started.”

Christian’s response: “Not if you hit hard enough the first time.”

Elias’ passiveness can be traced to his father Anton (Mikael Persbrandt), a good-hearted doctor splitting his time between home and a refugee camp in Africa where he must come face to face with the real bully of the narrative. A psychotic, machete-wielding warlord known as Big Man (Odiege Matthew) is the reason pregnant women with sliced bellies are turning up at the clinic. Anton’s Hippocratic Oath is tested when Big Man himself comes to the campsite in need of medical attention. Screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen, who has worked with Bier before on dramas such as “After the Wedding” and “Brothers,” creates strong parallels between the two worlds Anton inhabits. The corresponding scenes become increasingly significant as Jensen explores these different levels of hostility.

Besides Big Man, Anton is met with cruelty at home when Lars (Kim Bodina), a jerk auto mechanic from the area, slaps him around in front of Elias and Christian, whose friendship has begun to grow into something more treacherous. Anton’s lesson on civility falls on deaf ears as the boys begin to plot the best way to enact revenge.

At times, it’s hard to pinpoint where Christian’s vengeful nature spirals out of control. His character is believable in the first half of the film as a kid acting out impulsively, but a transformation into something else is hard to swallow. Bier and Jensen like to occasionally spoon-feed us some of the emotion behind the moral dilemmas raised during the film’s 119-minute runtime. During the final third of “World,” the scenes grow obvious and melodramatic.

Despite it’s heavy-handedness in the last act, Bier directs with fascinating awareness of her characters and with grace for the moments of compassion between two families trying to understand how humanity can be so merciless. Questions may not be answered, but Bier’s recognition of just how complicated life can get keeps us believing her directorial decisions come from a place of insight.

The Duchess

October 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Keira Knightley, Ralph Fiennes, Dominic Cooper
Directed by: Saul Dibb (“Bullet Boy”)
Written by: Saul Dibb (“Bullet Boy”), Jeffrey Hatcher (“Casanova”), Anders Thomas Jensen (“After the Wedding”)

Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve seen this period piece before and not just because of the exquisite costumes and ballroom dances. It might be hard to differentiate between period pieces these days, but with “The Duchess” there is enough enthusiasm from Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes to make it worth another trip back in time to the 18th century.

Set in 1774 England, Georgina (Knightley) has just been called upon by the Duke of Devonshire (Fiennes) to become his new bride. Unlike Knightley’s reaction as Elizabeth Bennett in the most recent “Pride and Prejudice” remake, Georgina is thrilled with the idea of being matched to someone she has never met to secure her and her family’s well-being. Early scenes show Georgina flirting with Charles Grey (Dominic Cooper), a young man who is the token love interest most period pieces will flock back to when their leading lady is fed up with her exalted husband. It happens again here in “Duchess,” (as do a few other plot points in films like “The Other Boleyn Girl”) but not before some interesting forks in the seemingly straightforward road.

Failing to give birth to a male heir, the Duchess, who ignores her husband’s extramarital affairs, gives her trust and friendship to a woman she meets at a party named Elizabeth Foster (Hayley Atwell). Georgina even gets the Duke to allow her to move into the estate when Elizabeth falls on hard times. It doesn’t take long for their new tenant to use her friendship with Georgina to begin a relationship with the Duke. The bizarre love triangle is taken up a notch when, instead of ridding himself of Georgina, the Duke decides that he wants to live with both women and continue their lives as he sees fit. The tension is at its highest during scenes when all three are at the breakfast table masking their displeasure and anger.

Of course, Georgina finds her way back to the now-political Charles Grey, who has never forgot about her. They’re relationship gets melodramatic and predictable, but roles like this are so second nature for Knightley, she does them in such a fascinating way it’s hard to imagine anyone else (even her lookalike Natalie Portman) playing the same part.

Where “The Duchess” fails is not building on Georgina’s character outside the walls of her castle. Although the scenes are few and far between, the Duchess was known for her taste in fashion, and political interest, but there’s really no mention of them despite Knightley’s take on her outgoing personality when she is away from the confines of her own home. We may not really see how Georgina affects the people of Devonshire on a cultural level, but as an emotionally wrecked figure Knightley captures her essence wonderfully.