What’s Love Got to Do with It?
May 5th, 2023
MOVIE: WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
STARRING: LILY JAMES, SHAZAD LATIF, EMMA THOMPSON, SHABANA AZMI
DIRECTED BY: SHEKHAR KAPUR
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 STARS (Out of 4)
With romantic comedies, you don’t want them to be cliche. And if they are going to be cliche, they need a certain kind of charm, an undeniable attraction that makes the standard tropes not matter. In What’s Love Got to Do with It?, the premise sets it up for an obvious conclusion, but director Shekhar Kapur avoids letting the cliches get in the way…at least, for a while. The material is taken seriously and the topics of arranged marriages, the battle between love or practicality, and the unfair pressures of the family take a serious tone. This does allow the material to push through any preconceptions. But then it goes too far and one begins to wonder if Kapur and company couldn’t decide what movie to make. What’s Love Got to Do with It? has the always charming Lily James but even she can’t make this forced rom-com rise above its shortcomings.
The main character is Zoe Stevenson (James), a 30-something documentary filmmaker, living in London, and often visiting her over-the-top mother Cath (Emma Thompson). We meet them at a traditional Indian wedding, dancing, and enjoying the festivities, but of course, Zoe is late. She arrives and chats with her friend Kazim (Shazad Latif) because the wedding is next door, as Kazim and Zoe have practically grown up together. He breaks the news that he is starting the process of an arranged marriage, and Zoe jumps at the opportunity to make it her next film project, hoping to capture his journey. The question becomes
From the get-go, my prediction was that during the making of this documentary Kazim and Zoe will realize that they should be together. The writing from Jemima Khan isn’t trying to hide that this could happen. Instead, we see how both Zoe and Kazim will deny everything in their lives, from Zoe’s inability to connect with someone and Kazim’s unable to admit that his to-be-bride Maymouna (Sajal Ali) just isn’t working. For a while, the direction from Kapur seems to sacrifice human emotions for a standard plot, but what he’s actually doing is slow playing it, with dialogue that comes off as contrived and a misconception that we care deeper for these characters.
The bright spot is both James and Thompson because their efforts are never phoned in. There is an odd narrative choice of having James narrate her experiences with other men through fairytale stories she tells to a friend’s children that she babysits. I think Kapur is going for a bit of meta fun by having the former Cinderella tell a new-age dating version. Most of that is just filler, leading up to Kazim’s big wedding, and the unveiling of Zoe’s finished documentary. It’s seeing how that unfolds what keeps our interest but the final result brings us to exactly what we predicted.
It’s not to say that What’s Love Got to Do with It? is the worst romantic comedy in recent memory. It’s just not leaving an impact to be memorable at all. Lily James is one of the most charming and electric actors working today but this is just a flex of her acting muscles. It’s also a bit too conventional for Kapur, who had become noticed from his work on the Elizabeth films with Cate Blanchett but lacks any real style to his storytelling. Either way, What’s Love Got to Do with It? never captures the genuine emotions it’s going for. Instead, it settles for everything you may have predicted from the start.
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS FRIDAY MAY 5TH, 2023.
Written by: Leo Brady