‘When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore!” suggests Dean Martin via song at the beginning of Susanne Bier’s insipid rom-com. If only the film were that subtle. Bier spices up the long-hackneyed generic formula with lush location cinematography, outstanding performances from Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm — both elevating their roles far beyond the material — and subtitles, but otherwise the movie needs a lot more than love.
So does Ida (Dyrholm), who has gone into remission after surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer. But a little love wouldn’t hurt, and she’s not getting any at home. Instead she comes home early from treatment to find her boorish husband, Leif (Kim Bodnia), and his co-worker from accounting, Tilde (Christiane Schaumburg-Müller), crunching more than numbers on the living room sofa. Confronted by Ida, Leif gets weepy and tells her that she has no consideration for how bad he’s been feeling since she got sick. Lots of room for character development there.
Having established these cliches, Bier moves on to others. Leif’s indiscretion poses an especially difficult problem because their daughter, Astrid (Molly Blixt Egelind), is about to marry Patrick (Sebastian Jessen) at his father Philip’s (Brosnan) shuttered but still paradisiacal Sorrento villa overlooking the Bay of Naples. The place is empty, but the young couple busy themselves with paint brushes and Philip’s credit card refurbishing the stately digs. Time well spent; these are the most beautiful walls I’ve seen all year, vying with the outdoor scenery for the best part of the movie.
Meanwhile, Philip, an embittered widower and tyrannical head of a Danish produce wholesaler (he has a painting of lemons on his office wall), meets cute with Ida, who backs into his car at the airport garage. Then Ida loses her luggage. Perhaps Bier opted against including the obligatory crabby flight attendant or humiliating security shakedown because the film was creeping toward the deadly two-hour point.
Will the opposites Ida and Philip connect and fill the void in each other’s lives? I think a more important question is — what the heck happened to Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa, the studio behind this piffle, and its founding doctrine, Dogme 95? The latter cinematic “Vow of Chastity” signed by Von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, and other Danish directors posed extreme rules of filmmaking that were impossible to keep, but now even the spirit of the pact is a joke.
At times Bier taps into the kind of realism Dogme was aiming for: a candlelit banquet scene in the villa, with a tipsy, venomous toast by Philip’s blowsy sister-in-law Benedikte (a scene-stealing Paprika Steen), draws on some of the caustic spontaneity of Vinterberg’s Dogme-approved “The Celebration” (1998). But for the most part the film is more like “Mamma Mia!” without Meryl Streep or the music — though the reprise of “That’s Amore” on the soundtrack is almost worth the wait.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.