What’s Love Got To Do With It? is a romantic comedy about the different ways people find love while living in a contemporary society.
You’ve seen one rom-com, you’ve seen them all. What makes this one feel different is through its approach to the subject. Jemima Khan’s script does a few things here: it tackles documentary filmmaking, dating via apps, and finding a spouse through assisted marriage. But at the end of the day, are they happy?
Zoe Stevenson (Lily James) and Kaz Khan (Shazad Latif) were childhood friends and only recently came back into each other’s life. Even now, they still go to their treehouse just to hide away from it all. What makes it different this time around is that he wants to get married but not through swiping left or right. Instead, he wants his parents to be involved in an old-fashioned assisted marriage. For the young people out there, this is what we call an “arranged marriage.” Will things work out in the end? Maybe, maybe not. It takes some time in this 108-minute film but love will work itself out. People just have to hit some road bumps along the way to get there, of course.
When Kaz tells Zoe about his plans, she immediately suggests making a documentary about it. Of course, she has to get some producers on board before any of it can happen. It’s a film that clicks all of the diversity checkboxes, minus the white filmmaker part. For Zoe, she looks at the film as helping explain cultural misapprehensions. With Kaz on board, Zoe has to get his parents, Aisha (Shabana Azmi) and Zahid (Jeff Mirza), to approve as well. Without their approval, she would not have a documentary and have to go back to square one. The fun part comes with subjects talking straight to the camera rather than forgetting that she’s even in the room. Starting the search means meeting with Mo the Matchmaker (Asim Chaudhry). From here on out, Zoe not only follows Kaz and his bride-to-be but reaches out to other couples in such marriages.
One can argue that Zoe decides to make the film as a result of her own terrible dating history. While babysitting, she keeps describing her dates in the form of the classic fairytales, the ones that Disney initially made in classic animation. I couldn’t help but chuckle when she came across Cinderella. Meanwhile, her mother, Cath (Emma Thompson), sees what the neighbors are doing and decides that she should match her daughter with a local veterinarian, James (Oliver Chris). Oh, parents.
Ultimately, Kaz meets Maymouna (Sajal Aly) over Skype. It’s not long before they’re engaged and we follow them to their wedding weekend in Pakistan. But even then, is Maymouna happy or is she only doing this to please her parents? This is the side of the film that What’s Love Got To Do With It? only briefly explores. It’s tricky when a film must be following rom-com beats while also featuring a documentary film, too. How much time do we need to invest in the film within the film? What happens to everyone in Pakistan only comes back to haunt them later on. Will Zoe ever be happy or will she continue to date a string of Mr. Wrongs? Can Kaz and Maymouna grow into a happy marriage? There’s a lot of questions here.
Where things go wrong in making the documentary is bringing in Kaz’s sister and brother-in-law, Jamila (Mariam Haque) and David. Jamila married outside their faith and has been cut off from the family. Documentary filmmakers have to put in work to gain the trust of their subjects. Zoe manages to lose all of her goodwill in an instant, let alone hurt a childhood friend and his family in the process. The initial screening reaction left her devastated but it may just turn out to be the trigger that the family needs to start healing from the hurt.
Lily James manages to elevate whatever projects she is in and this film is no exception. I’ve only recently come to discover Shazad Latif through his work in Star Trek: Discovery. But anyway, the two have great chemistry in the film because of their real-life friendship.
Ultimately, What’s Love Got To Do With It? tackles two very different approaches to finding love while also celebrating Pakistani culture. It does this while also managing to blend in a lot of comedy with family drama. More importantly, the film manages to do all of this while not playing into cultural stereotypes that we frequently see on screen. For my UK readers, the film is going to be released in January 2023. The film is still waiting for North American distribution.
DIRECTOR: Shekhar Kapur
SCREENWRITER: Jemima Khan
CAST: Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson, Sajal Aly, Asim Chaudhry, Jeff Mirza
What’s Love Got To Do With It? held its world premiere during the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival in the Gala Presentations program. Grade: 3.5/5
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