Love and Western marriage practices are under Lily James’ magnifying glass in Shekhar Kapur’s very traditional romcom, What’s Love Got To Do With It? In it the British actress plays an unlucky in love documentarian who starts to question her notions around relationship when filming her childhood friend and Pakistani neighbor on his arranged marriage journey.
Director Kapur plays with a very traditional romcom here. Reminiscent of Richard Curtis’ films like Love Actually and About Time, he dissects and highlights the divides between James’ Zoe and her white family and Shazad Latif’ Kaz and his Pakistani Muslim one. Zoe keeps sleeping around and going after shady guys, of which she has a low opinion of. She is still very close with her over critical mother played by Emma Thompson, who is more caricature than character.
Kaz is dealing with his own parental pressure. His mother, Aisha (Shabana Azmi), and father, Zahid (Jeff Mirza) refuse to acknowledge his sister who married outside of the religion and are only too happy that their eldest son is ready to marry. Why he wants to walk down the aisle is never really established, but he sets out to find a bride with Zoe in tow, eventually leading to a young lady in Pakistan.
Both James and Latif ooze charm individually. Latif brings a sexy authority and calmness while explaining cultural norms. James plays the fun, flirty, yet determined 20-something rather beautifully but when its time for chemistry between the two, they both are lacking.
While charming and conventional, there’s something about What’s Love Got To Do With It? that seems dated. It could be that the white female protagonist giving her opinions on arranged and assisted marriages that feels somewhat out of place. At one point the producers of Zoe’s film even says a “white director” isn’t the way to tell this story. Despite being neighbors for decades, Thompson’s Cath still says the racially ignorant comment for laughs while Mirza says a few stereotypically sexist ones.
There was a small indie film made during COVID called 7 Days which followed an arranged couple meeting and quarantining together. It not only had the charm and plenty of chemistry between leads Karan Soni and Geraldine Viswanathan, but seemed to bring a modern perspective on how Western culture views arranged marriages from a South Asian perspective. Because Kapur rests on his laurels and romcom tropes, What’s Love Got To Do With It? doesn’t feel fresh. Sure, parts of it are fun but its not a movie that stays with you after the credits roll.
What’s Love Got To Do With It? is playing now in theaters nationwide. Watch the trailer below