As it turns out, love has quite a lot to do with it. Love means very different things to different people, and in Shekhar Kapur's ('Elizabeth') latest film 'What's Love Got To Do With It?', the notion of everlasting love is explored through the lens of assisted marriages in the modern world.
Penned by British Pakistani legend Jemima Khan and drawing from some of her own experiences, 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' follows filmmaker Zoe (Lily James, 'Mama Mia! Here We Go Again') as she documents her neighbour Kaz (Shazad Latif, 'The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'), who has decided to go through the process of an arranged marriage, and find himself a suitable bride from Pakistan. Sorry, they are now referred to as "assisted marriages". Dismayed and shocked that her friend would resign himself to such a commitment to marry a complete stranger, Zoe is presented with an opportunity to learn all about what love really means.
Commissioned by her producers (comedic double-act The Pin) to follow Kaz and his family, including his Mother Aisha (Shabana Azmi), his father Zahid (Jeff Mirza) and the incomparable Nana Jin, Zoe starts a journey that is planted with curiosity and concern, and will blossom into an educational and heartfelt discovery - or as her producers label it, "Love Contractually".
Within the structure of a rom-com, Kapur manages to craft a film that is ultimately a family drama exploring the very fabrics of culture and humanity. The search for love can be tiresome and often debilitating, but 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' asks the audience to leave all their preconceived ideas of assisted marriages at the door, and embrace what comes their way.
There is a line in the film that says we should "walk into marriage, and only then fall in love". Zoe's dating life has seen it all - always chasing the wrong man to the ever-growing concern of her mother Cath (Emma Thompson, 'Cruella', 'Roald Dahl's Matilda the Musical'), so perhaps she is looking at love all wrong. The classic 'When Harry Met Sally' framing device is used here to good effect as Zoe interviews various family members about their arranged marriages, and what it all means to them. It creates a safe and warm space for those more naïve audience members to not necessarily embrace the concept, but to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and how the construct of love can mean something completely different to what you thought. It opens your eyes to an ancient practise that works, and gives a light-hearted look into a process rarely seen in mainstream cinema.
Above it all, 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' is still a rom-com, and it hits those marks with aplomb. Thompson is particularly fantastic - as she always is - as the eccentric mum, and whilst I was originally sceptical of her side gags and quips, she brings a warmth to her off-centred disposition that only Thompson knows how to land. Produced by Working Title, who are the British rom-com legends that produced 'Love Actually' and 'Bridget Jones's Diary', you can feel assured that the familiar beats are hit and you will not be left wanting. The "com" aspect is not as funny as it could be, although a cameo appearance by comedian Asim Chaudhry ('Wonder Woman 1984') as Mo the Matchmaker gets a good run, but it is full of the "rom" that makes this film a worthwhile trip.
'What's Love Got To Do With It?' asks the audience to leave all their preconceived ideas of assisted marriages at the door, and embrace what comes their way.
Following on from that, I would encourage audiences not to watch the trailer, as it's essentially the entire film beat-for-beat. Not that this film has any unexpected twists, but it's still nice to go in a little cold.
If Thompson brings the laughs, Kaz's family bring the undeniable strength and warmth. They shed a bright light on the Pakistani culture, adding to a vibrancy and colour that Kapur captures lovingly with his camera. Indian screen legend Azmi plays Kaz's mum Aisha, and her matriarchal glow is imposed on the family with such a vigour that you daren't deny her. I was blown away by her confidence and screen presence, as she commands the attention of your gaze whenever she draws near.
The cast is all great and the chemistry is strong, especially between Zoe and Kaz, but where this film trips a little is the relationship between the two. For me, we just needed a little more insight into their lives. Are they best friends? Former flames? Just old neighbours? It's missing something that could have made the relationship a little more coherent, rather than just a pretty standard run-of-the-mill attraction. That's not to say James and Latif didn't play their roles well, as truth be told they are two extremely good-looking people - so it kind of didn't matter all that much. Nonetheless, it needed a bit more bite to add weight of their relationship.
'What's Love Got To Do With It?' shows great representation of an otherwise overshadowed culture and practise. Cinema is healthier for broadening the landscape of the stories we tell, so while 'What's Love Got To Do With It?' may often feel conventional in many aspects, it certainly presents something which few have encountered, and that deserves the attention. Kapur has no right to bring such delight to the rom-com genre, but we are glad he did.