What's Love Got to Do with It? goes deeper than your typical rom-com
For those who aren’t part of a culture that subscribes to the idea of arranged marriage, the concept can seem completely foreign. Who would want to marry someone who’s almost a complete stranger and hope for love instead of falling in love first? The new film What’s Love Got to Do with It? approaches the custom through the guise of a romantic comedy, showing both the good and bad sides of the tradition.
Zoe (Lily James), a documentary filmmaker, and Kazim (Shazad Latif), a doctor, are longtime friends who grew up next door to each other in London. Zoe is looking for her next project, and when Kazim, who is of Pakistani heritage, tells her that he is about to embark upon the process of an “assisted marriage” – one where he is fully engaged in finding a wife instead of one being chosen for him – she convinces him to let her document the journey.
While she’s filming Kazim go through a type of Pakistani speed-dating, engage in Zoom chats with women in Pakistan, and more, Zoe struggles with her own checkered romantic history. Cath (Emma Thompson), Zoe’s well-meaning but overly-enthusiastic mom, does her own bit of arranging, trying to set Zoe up with James (Oliver Chris), her milquetoast veterinarian.
Directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by Jemima Khan, the film is lightweight but still more introspective than your typical rom-com. Though the outcome of the story would not seem to be in doubt, the filmmakers put in a lot of work showing how Kazim believes that an assisted marriage is the right choice for him, chastising Zoe on more than one occasion about her limited worldview.
Zoe’s bad luck in romance is attributed to factors like her being a workaholic and being attracted to men who are bad for her, typical rom-com tropes that are bolstered by the juxtaposition with Kazim. Through a series of When Harry Met Sally-style interviews with characters in arranged marriages, Zoe – and, by extension, the film as a whole – seems to be very cynical about love in general, with both types of marriages not seeming all that appealing.
While the film plays its story relatively straightforward, a few scenes are jarring in their attempt to provide a different tone. Cath seems to have an obsession with being part of Pakistani culture - dressing up in traditional clothes, speaking Urdu, butting in on dances at weddings – actions that may or may not cross the line of cultural appropriation. Kazim’s eventual fiancée Maymouna (Sajal Ali) is also portrayed oddly, going from quiet, shy, and reluctant in most scenes to over-the-top in one anomalous sequence.
James makes for an appealing lead, and the film allows her to explore the more dramatic sides of her character instead of playing her foibles for laughs all the time. Latif does well, although it’s a bit surprising that his character is not given the same depth as Zoe considering the ideas in the film. The supporting actors are mainly there to serve as comic relief, although they are almost uniformly portrayed as realistic people, a refreshing change for the genre.
A bit deeper than your typical rom-com, What’s Love Got to Do with It? is a solid play on the “will friends become lovers?” plot line. By comparing/contrasting the different ways people get married, the film offers interesting yet still entertaining ideas that rarely get explored in this type of film.
What's Love Got to Do with It? is now playing in theaters.