It's rare to find a romance that's actually based on such vivid characters as these, but then this is from Oscar-winning filmmaker Susanne Bier (In a Better World), who knows how to root films in people rather than plot structure. And even more important: this is a romance about middle-aged people we can genuinely engage with, as they have been beaten down by life and are in need of a fresh start.
It starts in Copenhagen, where hairdresser Ida (Dyrholm) has just finished cancer treatment when she discovers that her husband Leif (Bodnia) is sleeping with a young airhead (Schaumburg-Miller). Now she has to pack her son (Hansen) off to war before heading to Italy for the marriage of daughter Astrid (Egelind) to her boyfriend Patrick (Jessen). Then at the airport, Ida has an unlucky run-in with Patrick's tetchy father Philip (Brosnan), who has focussed only on his work since his wife died. And even as Ida catches his eye, he has to fend off the advances of his lovelorn sister-in-law Benedikte (Steen).
With a group of people gathering for a wedding on an idyllic Mediterranean island, the plot may seem like Mamma Mia without the music. But there are surprising details in the characters as the farce develops, and only a couple of the plot-lines get silly. The central love story is actually remarkably sweet, using Ida's and Philip's troubled histories to make their interaction both snappier and more deeply emotional than we expect. And Bier, working with her usual screenwriter Jensen, are free to let other narrative strands come and go around them.
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Ironically enough, the blueprints are handed straight to the audience: Von Trier's latest, The Boss of It All, basically lays out an office comedy while simultaneously instructing the audience on how a modern comedy should be made. Intermittently sprinkled through the narrative, von Trier's narration comes in to warn us of a change in plot that is "necessary," starting off falsely aloof and ending hopelessly irate. The man can't help himself.
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The relationship between beautiful, sexy Cecilie (Sonja Richter) and her lover Joachim (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) is fun and endearing and we soon care about these people whose bond is expressed by the playful manner in which Joachim asks Cecilie to marry him and how she responds in the affirmative. The following morning, Cecilie drops Joachim off for a planned trip and, as he springs from the car on the traffic side, is hit by a car. Suddenly, what seemed so sure and positive is wrenched into another dimension.
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Predictability reigns for much of the film, because we've seen the story far too often before. A stranger comes to town where the residents are skeptical of outsiders. She proceeds to go out of her way to ingratiate herself, they finally accept her, and then show their true colors against her of what they fear to inflict on one another due to extended co-habitation. The dysfunction turns into a gang of all versus one, regardless of any normal sense of morality, which they are able to slowly rationalize. On the one hand, the unhurried process through which this evolves respects the fact that nobody changes actions or views over night. But because we know it's going to happen, the path to getting there feels arduous.
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