Jemima Khan spent many a year living in Pakistan whilst married to Cricketing legend Imran Khan, and she draws from that experience to pen this by-the-numbers romantic comedy, directed by Shekhar Kapur. British rom-coms are a safe bet most of the time. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a truly great one though. The wait continues, because ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ definitely struggles to find any new ground, despite approaching the genre with some good ideas. In the end predictability wins over and the big risks the subject matter threatens to tackle are never challenged.
Lily James plays Zoe, a documentary filmmaker who decides to film her friend’s upcoming arranged marriage. Hoping that she can hear him is none other than ‘Clem Fandango’ himself, Shazad Latif. The ‘Toast of London’ and ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ star is perfectly cast alongside Lily James as Kazim, her next-door-neighbour and childhood friend. Reluctant at first, he and his family agree to the film, as Zoe documents the whole process of a South Asian ‘assisted’ marriage. It will surprise you to learn that things don’t go to plan. How will the ridiculously attractive Zoe and the dashingly handsome Kazim possibly handle such a scenario?
I love rom-coms. I always have, and I’m willing to give the genre a lot of slack when it comes to its narrative choices. ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ looks nice enough, and London is utilised well. With a decent ensemble to boot and a premise that could have given us a fresh perspective on the common and tiresome depictions of arranged marriages, the film had a wonderful opportunity to deliver something of substance. Predictability is a big problem here. The genre has battled this for years, and for the most part I’m fine with stories that play to convention. But when you have a film that the producers pitch as a game-changing movie that looks at things differently, it makes its short-comings even more apparent.
Anyone who has seen the trailer can guess exactly how this film plays out. That’s to no fault of the cast, who are largely all good. Lily James and Shazad Latif make a nice onscreen couple and they have chemistry. A scene-stealing Emma Thompson rescues the film quite often – again playing a similar role to one she’s done countless times over the years. It’s nice to see Asim Chaudhry given a role that doesn’t just require him to be Chabuddy G again, but his role as Mo the Matchmaker is used far too sparingly. Oliver Chris does what he can with a role that offers him little, whilst Shabana Azmi, Jeff Mirza, Sajal Ali, Nosheen Phoenix and Nikkita Chadha are all fine.
The film has a good story thread about Kazim’s estranged sister, who has been ostracised from the family after marrying a white man and having a child. It’s an interesting angle to explore further, and a good opportunity to challenge some tough scenarios. It’s used in the film, but for me it’s underdeveloped and shies away from any real drama. It’s resolution also feels very forced and unbelievable.
‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ is predictable but broadly enjoyable fare if you approach it with lowered expectations. I want much more from my rom-coms though, and as a British Asian it’s very disappointing to see one with a premise offering so many untapped potential choices as this go begging here. This was a great chance to do something different with the traditional Indian tropes too, but again it plays to convention. There was a chance to be bold and brave but none of those choices were taken. So ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ ends up being another forgettable middle of the road comedy that has a spark, but no real magic.
Cast: Lily James, Shazad Latif, Emma Thompson, Asim Chaudhry, Oliver Chris, Shabana Azmi, Jeff Mirza, Sajal Ali, Nosheen Phoenix, Nikkita Chadha Director: Shekhar Kapur Writer: Jemima Khan Certificate: 12A Duration: 108 mins Released by: StudioCanal Release date: 24th February 2023