This recent May weekend saw quite a few romantic movies being released at the same time. There’s Love Again, a rom-com with Priyanka Chopra, Sam Heughan and Celine Dion, and this, What’s Love Got to Do with It? No, it’s not a movie about Tina Turner, but a rom-com about the difficulties faced in navigating modern relationships.
For our protagonist Zoe (Lily James), what holds her back is her fear of being hurt. She finds it easier to invest in relationships she knows aren’t going to work out, or distract herself with casual affairs. She babysits for her best friend Helena’s children quite a fair bit, and often tells them her own version of fairy tales. In her versions, there are no happy endings, only emptiness and darkness.
Zoe is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and after her recent idea for a film got rejected, she suggests following her friend Kaz (Shazad Latif) on his journey through assisted marriage. Assisted marriage is different from an arranged marriage, in the sense that the young people have more say, and are able to date and communicate with these potential prospects. Zoe is surprised that Kaz, a modern Muslim man, would opt for something like that. But Kaz is driven by his commitment and duty to his family, and dives into the entire endeavour with some measure of enthusiasm.
As the family joyously seek out potential women to match him up with, everyone tries their very best to ignore the elephant in the room, the fact that Kaz’ sister Jamila eloped with a non-Muslim man, and has basically been disowned by the family. In the meantime, Zoe’s mom Cath (Emma Thompson) is also trying her ardent best to assist Zoe in her romantic relationships, by setting her up with the cute veterinarian James (Oliver Chris).
The film offers pros and cons to both sides of the coin. Kaz’ parents have an arranged marriage, and they are perfectly happy together, as well as his brother Farooq (Mim Shaikh) and his new wife Yasmin (Iman Boujelouah). And sometimes, even when you marry for love, things can go horribly awry, as Zoe herself notes when she realises a man she’s had a one night stand with is attached. People can fall in love, and also slip out of it, leading to broken marriages and divorce. Kaz even states at one point that 55% of marriages in Britain end in divorce.
However, an assisted marriage cannot work out if the two people in it aren’t committed to each other, or share the same values. When Kaz meets Maymouna (Sajal Ali), they are compatible in terms of race, religion and background, but very different when it comes to lifestyle. They are also at different stages of their life – he’s older and settled in his occupation, and she’s still studying and in search of a good time.
While not exactly predictable, the rom-com formula does dictate a certain path, which leads us to a conclusion that’s fairly contrived. Things never wrap up as easily as this in real life: I live in a multi-racial society, and I’ve seen tremendous fallout from mixed marriages and relationships. The film creates the conflict, and then tries to wave a magic wand to casually push to the side all the issues pertaining to said conflict. And while James and Latif are such charming actors, and have abundant chemistry together, the film doesn’t spend much time developing their relationship to something beyond friendship.
What’s Love Got to Do with It skips the nuance and sticks instead to the easier path, and because it does, fails to tell a romantic story that truly matters.
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In its desire to laud love and its capacity to overcome all odds, What's Love Got to Do With It? drops all sense of nuance and goes for a more conventional route instead.
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