Wedding films can be a bit like wedding cake – lots of layers, too sweet, just enough is already a bit too much, not everyone is a fan. Given those caveats, and with the realisation that for every joyous wedding-themed movie like Bridesmaids there’s a steaming pile such as 27 Dresses, let’s wander up the aisle with director Susanne Bier and her two stars, Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm.
Brosnan plays Philip, the father of the groom, Dyrholm plays Ida, mother of the bride, people who have never met until, at the airport, she manages to reverse her car into his. Ida is a hairdresser recovering from cancer and from the fact that she’s just found her husband shagging his secretary. Philip is a rich widower who’s been living an emotionally detached existence since his wife died.
Meet cute established, they head off to sun-drenched Italy, where his villa has been taken out of mothballs to stage the wedding. It is an ideal space for the movie’s many many characters, and a metaphor for Philip’s dusty, untended heart – this is where he and his wife lived when they first married.
If the plot is strictly romantic pulp fiction – storm-tossed experienced male and smiling innocent female – the leads never let on. Though Brosnan was the most emotional of the 007s, this is still a fair remove from his career of serial suavity. Playing a man negotiating loss, grief, the rebirth of love, insecurity and so on, Brosnan is on unsure ground and does occasionally show it. Dyrholm, new to me, is far more assured, playing a middle-aged woman whose husband has violated her trust just as the cancer surgeon has violated her breasts. Director Susanne Bier even throws in a parody of Venus on a shell at one point, during which the clearly scarred Ida arises majestically from the waves, Dyrholm managing to make her look both scarred and sexy, timid yet defiant. It also helps that Dyrholm has a joyous quick smile that forces the viewer to smile right back at the screen and a gift for light comedy.
Around the story of these two are stacked those of the guests at the wedding party – the bride worried that her future husband has gone off her; the groom wondering if he’s made a mistake; the sister-in-law with the hots for Philip; Ida’s oafish husband, who has broken every rule in the book by bringing his new sexual conquest to the event; the twittery kitchen staff. It’s a nicely rounded ensemble but Paprika Steen (the brassy Benedikte with Philip in her sights) and Kim Bodnia (as the dim libidinous husband, hilarious with almost no material) get the best of it.
The Italy it is set in is the Italy of the movies of busy, jabbering locals, beautiful old villas, sunshine streaming everywhere, warm nights, cicadas. For Susanne Bier, whose line is Nordic films of a certain dourness of cast, it’s a departure. But then again it isn’t. She’s interested in people – with films such as Brothers and Things We Lost in the Fire she has shown an ability to deal with difficult relationships. Here though she’s spiritually in Hollywood and there is the distinct sound of gears being changed as she runs Brosnan and Dyrholm through the moods and the genres – comedy, romance, melodrama. At one point, as Philip and Ida sit in a taxi taking them from the airport to the villa for the first time, Bier even tries a bit of screwball comedy. Thankfully she doesn’t try it for long, neither of her leads seem happy in Bringing Up Baby’s shadow.
A word about the language. Apart from odd moments in Italian, the film is basically in Danish when the Danes are speaking and in English when Brosnan speaks. It takes roughly five seconds to get over this stylistic quirk. At another level, this emotionally satisfying romance aimed at people who know where the film’s title comes from marks another clever step for Brosnan, after the political drama of The Ghost, the action heroics of Seraphim Falls and his wounded bellowing in the musical Mama Mia!, he’s still moving the ball around the park. Who’d have thought the showroom dummy who used to be Remington Steele would be having such an interesting late career?
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© Steve Morrissey 2013