If ever one needed an excuse to flip, the heroine of Love is All You Need would appear to have an embarrassment of riches. She has had surgery for cancer and just finished a bout of chemo. She returns home from hospital to find her husband with a colleague on their couch. He leaves her, then the following week shows up with the colleague — to whom he’s now engaged — at the wedding of their daughter.
And yet she remains, throughout, perfectly peaceful and sanguine. She starts sane and she ends sane — her hopes get mashed and her heart goes through the wringer but her head is forever level.
Pierce Brosnan’s character, for whom she falls, has no such troubles. He is a wildly successful vegetable magnate, persistently hit on by beautiful women, swish penthouse in the city. And yet it is he who the drama of Susanne Bier’s romcom revolves around.
It’s this that explains why a movie that looks like a big-screen beach read was up against The Master and the new Terrence Malick in competition at the Venice film festival last year. It’s similar to the reason Silver Linings Playbook did so well at the Oscars. It is because they are both romcoms in which it is the man who needs to find his marbles.
All the great romcoms of old featured a woman who was borderline certifiable. In Bringing Up Baby you’ll see that Katharine Hepburn is not the godmother of today’s manic pixie dream girl. Cary Grant’s role in that film is simply to manage her, just as it is Jack Lemmon’s to nurse Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment, or Roger Livesey’s to correct Wendy Hillier’s cracked logic in I Know Where I’m Going.
These films reflected a world in which men rescued women, saw past their failings and loved them regardless of their daftness. That’s not how it works any more, and while fiction has adapted accordingly film had looked like it couldn’t quite cope with the change. What we got was frat-pack comedy, in which the hapless chap is an aspirational figure, for all his faults. When frat-pack stars started moving into romcoms, they took this baggage with them: Failure to Launch, Crazy Stupid Love, The Five-Year Engagement all feature women who are the calm hearts of the storm, patiently waiting for bumbling blokes to get it together.
These are primary-colour romcoms, of course; Silver Linings and Love is All You Need succeed because they appear to promise more shade. Dressing the romcom up like a drama makes it respectable. Just three romantic comedies have done well at the Oscars over the last 40 years: Silver Linings, As Good as it Gets and Annie Hall. Love is All You Need looks unlikely to follow suit, but it ties its tie in much the same fashion.