What’s love got to do with it? Everyone’s favourite second-hand emotion fuels this bubbly rom-com that, lest the title fool you, has absolutely nothing to do with Tina Turner. The question is rhetorical as documentary filmmaker Zoe (Lily James) embarks on a project of love and happy marriage. This fun and spirited comedy from director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and writer Jemima Khan offers little new, but it warmly reminds audiences of the power of love. Love, obviously, has everything to do with it.
What’s Love Got to Do with It? sees Zoe wondering all things romantic when her childhood friend, Kaz (Shazad Latif) announces his interest in arranged marriage. Kaz, whose family is Pakistani, seeks a good match. Done with dating apps and fairytale aspirations, he yearns for someone who jives with his family. The reason, partly, is because his sister married a white man and brought shame to the family. However, Zoe, having lived next door to Kaz for most of their lives, is dumbstruck. And she’s obviously in love with Kaz.
Zoe shadows Kaz as he follows all the matchmaking procedures for her film, tentatively titled Love, Contractually. He meets with professional matchers and does some speed dating for one-stop shopping. Zoe films each encounter with a shoestring, one-woman production: observing, asking questions, and not remaining particularly objective. She’s clearly a dreamer and, while not approaching the documentary with a clear thesis, is unconvinced that love isn’t a factor for a happy marriage.
The friends’ parents, meanwhile, are busy doing their own matchmaking. Zoe’s kooky mum Cath (a fun Emma Thompson) frets that her daughter is destined for spinsterhood. She tries setting Zoe up with all sorts of guys. They’re perfectly good matches: reliable jobs, okayish personalities, passable looks. All-around B-minuses, really. Despite the cultural differences between the family’s backgrounds, though, Cath’s perspective doesn’t differ much from Kaz’s idea. She opted for love and is now divorced. They both feel that love is a welcome by-product of a sound pairing.
Kaz’s mom Aisha (a strong Shabana Azmi) similarly can’t see the good match staring her in the face. She supports Kaz’s choice to opt for tradition. She eagerly participates and fervently seeks a partner for her son. Zoe, however, can’t help but notice that Aisha says nothing of her estranged daughter and the granddaughter she’s never met. The film asks what price tradition bears, especially when parents say they simply want their kids to be happy.
Love in Lahore
What’s Love Got to Do with It? situates Kaz’s search for love in a very modern Britain. The film is most refreshing in its portrait of a contemporary British-Pakistani family. Kapur and Khan offer both families significant narrative weight, exploring worlds that coexist in a diverse country. Khan, meanwhile, shows that she understands the delicacy of the situation. The screenwriter, who is white, makes her dramatic debut after a career producing documentaries. She makes Zoe consider the weight of responsibility a documentarian faces when chronicling a culture that is not one’s own. Zoe often doesn’t handle these questions well as she struggles to overcome her bias. It doesn’t help, either, that Cath enjoys Kaz’s matchmaking with a hint of boozy aunt exoticism. But the conflicts mostly arise when Zoe fails to check her white gaze at the door.
The film also brings its cast to Lahore for the fateful wedding. Culture clash turns tables when Zoe must look at arranged marriages from the other side. Kapur throws a good wedding, too, and bathes the film in bright colours and dance numbers. There’s humour and heartache in equal measure as Aisha extols the wonder of a tearful bride to Zoe’s camera.
James makes an appealing romantic lead, but much of the dramatic weight falls on Latif, who meets the challenge. The actors also have magnetic chemistry, which should make audiences swoon. The film has the spark of two people in love and the actors elevate rom-com convention as Zoe and Kaz gaze longingly at each other, wondering about their fairytale ending. They’re such a good match that one can easily forgive the predictable finale. It is, appropriately, a film that’s hard not to love.