The Plot: Documentary filmmaker Zoe (Lily James) has had professional success, but the search for the right man continues to elude her. This is much to the dismay of her mother Cath (Emma Thompson), who is concerned that she might be left on the shelf with her biological clock ticking away. Zoe hits upon a new project, which will involve roping in her London-based childhood friend Kazim (Shazad Latif) and his lively Pakistani family. Kazim has followed tradition and pre-empted his parents by seeking out an arranged marriage to a lady back in Lahore. Zoe documents Kazim’s journey as he prepares to marry someone he doesn’t really know in the hope that it might present a more modern and positive approach to this very different type of relationship. In the process, she learns some truths about herself…
The Verdict: ‘A cross-cultural romantic comedy’ is simply how IMDb describes the plot for What’s Love Got To Do With It? The title is fairly generic romcom stuff too, even if it’s borrowed from a Tina Turner song. Combine that with British production company Working Title, old hands at this sort of thing, and you have the makings for a predictable romcom that features the inevitable last-minute race to the airport/train station/whatever for a declaration of true intent. Or not as the case may be. While the film plays along with the romcom formula and acknowledges its conventions, it’s also smarter and more honest about the deepness of human feelings across two different cultures. Perhaps this is why distributor Studiocanal have placed it beyond the St Valentine’s Day market for it to stand out on its own without being just another romcom clogging up cinema screens. They’re ten-a-penny after all.
There are two secret weapons here. Jemima Khan’s script carefully blends modern British and Pakistani culture in a way not seen since perhaps East Is East. There’s a deep sense of tradition on display as Kazim seeks out an arranged marriage, honouring the origin of his own parents’ marriage. He’s very self-assured and confident about it all, something which his friend Zoe can’t quite grasp as she documents the marriage arrangements. Her own messy life is at a crossroads too, unable to find the right spark and constantly egged on by her mother (Emma Thompson in winning form and getting the best lines too in a role that was written for her). There’s a warm and rather lovely sense of community on display, as the two cultures look past their differences and embrace their common human threads of family, love and commitment. It’s a skillful balancing act of character and culture.
The other secret weapon is talented Lahore-born director Shekhar Kapur, who made a splash in the 1990s with the striking Bandit Queen and the two Elizabeth films with Cate Blanchett. A Working Title romcom is not the most obvious choice for him then, but his return to feature films shows no rustiness in his direction. He directs his actors well and brings a lot of local colour in the Lahore sequences which moves beyond the wedding to street life and soulful music in the air. He lends the film a tangible quality that makes it quite appealing. You can almost smell the food too. All the same, he is saddled with an end result that is well-signposted early on, so no surprises there. He nimbly dances around it though, questioning character motivations and probing whether tradition is always right. It turns out that love has got a lot to do with it actually. Perhaps it’s everything in this amiable cross-cultural story about love contractually – or otherwise. Worth a look.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
In short: Love contractually
Directed by Shekhar Kapur.
Starring Lily James, Shazad Latif, Emma Thompson, Asim Chaudhry, Oliver Chris.