What’s Love Got to Do with It?
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Writer: Jemima Khan
Cast: Lily James, Shazad Latif, Emma Thompson, Shabana Azmi, Jeff Mirza, Pakiza Baig, Mim Shaikh, Iman Boujelouah, Oliver Chris, Sajal Ali, Asim Chaudhry
Seen on: 15.3.2023
Kazim (Shazad Latif) and Zoe (Lily James) have been next door neighbors and best friends since they were children, despite their very different cultural backgrounds. Nevertheless, Zoe is floored when Kazim tells her that he has decided to go for an assisted marriage to make his Pakistani parents (Shabana Azmi, Jeff Mirza) happy – and to find happiness himself. Since Zoe, a documentary filmmaker, is in a bit of a creative tight spot and looking for a new project, she convinces Kaz to let her chronicle the process. But it’s not so easy for her to stay the necessary distance for that.
What’s Love Got to Do with It? is cute and touching, albeit a little uninspired. Still, there are far too few “culture clash” comedies out there that aren’t completely racist themselves and at the very least, this film is one of the few, so that’s definitely something special.
With screenwriter Jemima Khan, the film has a white writer who married into Pakistani culture. Despite Indian director Kapur, the film never quite loses this white perspective. Arranged, or assisted, marriage is still seen as the thing to be explained to the world (as if most of the world didn’t practice it for the most part, yes, also in Europe and not so long ago), and we see things much more through Zoe’s eyes than through Kazim’s. Plus, there is a touch of exoticism around the wedding traditions and generally Pakistani culture.
Nevertheless, it never crosses the line into fetishization or racism, I thought. In fact, with Emma Thompson’s Cath, the film gives us a critical portrayal of this kind of racism that’s all about the “exotic” and how open-minded the white person is for loving it. (Thompson is hilarious.) And there is certainly a big attempt to show the upsides of assisted marriages and not just the criticism of it.
At the same time, this is a romantic comedy, and one that doesn’t dare to question Western notions of romance too much. So, neither of the two new arranged relationships in the film, Kazim’s with Maymouna (Sajal Ali), and Zoe’s with Cath’s vet James (Oliver Chris), are allowed to work out in the end. In fact, the film strongly suggests that while assisted marriage may be nice, true love can’t be found there – a surprisingly tone-deaf ending for the film.
Lily James and Shazad Latif have nice chemistry and are obviously very comfortable with each other, and that goes a long way for a film that otherwise hits all the familiar stops with not too much deviation from what you’d expect. It is a comforting film, that’s for sure, and will give you the sugar high that you hope for from a RomCom, but it could have just been a tad more than that.
Summarizing: sweet and wholesome.