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What’s Love Got To Do With It ?★★★★



Directed: Shekhar Kapur

Cast: Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson, Sajal Ali, Asim Chaudhry

Released: 24th February 2023

Given the fast-paced nature of modern life, we are inundated with choices when contemplating how to swiftly fix our love or sex lives. The clinical right/left swipe of Tinder, the immediate hook-up agreed via Grindr, mindful of a heavily religious community you’re perhaps a part of in the pursuit of happiness, like Muzz (previously Muzmatch). For all our easy access, the great difficulties and post-mortems into what went wrong mount up. Should we be drawing inspiration from previous generations? Different cultures to remedy our romantic woes? A far cry from the sex tape scandal that engulfed her previous Pam & Tommy role. Lily James’ filmmaker documents a more wholesome affair here in Shekhar Kapur’s What’s Love Got To Do With It?, an endearing reminder of why we Brits are tough to beat in the romantic comedy arena.

Zoe (James) takes pride in putting a contemporary twist on fairy-tale stories when babysitting friends’ children. Yet, the same can’t be said for her chequered history with men, with a string of alcohol-fuelled one-night stands instantly regrettable come sunrise. Saddled with fellow London producers discouraging her from highlighting more significant issues and exacerbated by the eccentricity of her mum Cath (Emma Thompson), lining up possible suitors. You would hardly blame Zoe for following Rapunzel’s footsteps and locking herself away in a tower. The key to artistic and romantic enlightenment may not be far away. Let’s pop next door.

Zoe’s dashing long-time best friend Kazim (Shazad Latif) throws her the curveball of agreeing to an assisted marriage, handpicked by doting parents Aisha (Shabana Azmi) and Zahid (Jeff Mirza), who walked down these well-trodden path years before. Overcoming initial reluctance, Zoe is entrusted to film this ‘Love At First Skype’ affair from its slick London beginnings featuring an uproarious cameo from Asim Chaudhry as a motormouth matchmaker to the visual splendour of its Lahore celebrations. However, she is keenly chronicling this lavish occasion coupled with the proximity of observing Kazim. It only prompts further examination of Zoe’s failings.

Jemima Khan’s thoughtful screenplay strikes a terrific balance in challenging the preconceived notions of this common trend in South Asian communities whilst teasing progress in a manner where you genuinely sense the genuine care being taken in each decision made by its protagonists and drawing upon a wealth of experience as a British-Pakistani wife spending a decade in Lahore, regularly surveying the scenes of multiple arranged marriages. It’s a rom-com that doesn’t succumb to giddiness which, given the context, is highly commendable.  

There’s richness and respect in how it delves into Pakistani culture, drawing insightful contrasts with the western world. Its disarming reference to the late Princess Diana, who had a loving relationship with surgeon Hasnat Khan in the 1990s. Is there an argument that her marriage to Prince Charles was ‘arranged’? So given the universality, why is the criticism of this approach to marriage seemingly levelled at just Muslim families? Frustratingly broad perceptions and blatant Islamophobia perpetuate the grey area of cultural identity. A passionate outburst by Kazim emphasising the ‘ish’ in British is particularly damning, levelled out by the gentle levity in another instance of the Khan family needing ‘extra time’ at the airport before travelling.

Digging deeper than your standard romance, the familiar tropes of the genre incorporated by director Shekhar Kapur, fused with its distinctive Pakistani traditions, remain wonderfully effective. The personable interviews with loved-up members of Kazim an affectionate nod to When Harry Met Sally, which leaves room for a strong subplot involving Kazim’s sister Jamila (Mariam Haque), which is a joyful tear-jerker in its resolution. The wedding proceedings, especially the choreographed dance routines performed for the bride-to-be Maymouna (Sajal Ali) at a mehndi party which at surface level comes across as a stag and hen-do merger, are elegantly staged.

Like the wine at any fine wedding, the performances are sparkling. Lily James and Shazad Latif have such a bubbly chemistry when they share the screen, making their respective characters easy to root for. Herself fearful of feeling like half a person without a man by her side. Him conscious of inflicting any further hurt on his family. Well-intentioned, albeit prone to the occasional cultural hiccup. Much of the comedy rests on the shoulders of Emma Thompson’s Cath, who relishes the responsibility with a show-stealing turn. Far more poise, even with the underlying pain found in Shabana Azmi’s Aisha, whose peppering of wisdom in revelling in the ‘like phase’ of a relationship makes her an ever-welcome screen presence.

Perhaps resembling a first date, its tonal transitions have mild instances of awkwardness. But rather like any winning long-term relationship, the delightful What’s Love Got To Do With It? powers through with emotional sincerity and charm in abundance.

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