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Film Review: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Achieves Comedy Without Romance

Written by: Hannah Tran | May 5th, 2023

Film poster: “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

What’s Love Got to Do with It? (Shekhar Kapur, 2023) 2½ out of 4 stars.

The cover’s classic rom-com trappings may suggest a by-the-numbers romance, but Indian director Shekar Kapur’s What’s Love Got to Do with It? bites off a bit more, asking its title’s central question in regard to the larger topic of arranged, or assisted, marriages in modern Britain. When Zoe, a thirty-something documentarian, finds out her neighbor and lifelong friend Kaz is letting his parents set him up for marriage, she can’t wrap her head around the practice and decides to make her next project about his experience finding a wife, which, of course, only brings the two closer together. As the movie travels from London to Lahore, What’s Love Got to Do with It? proves it has some sweet and interesting commentary to add to the topic, but what it has to offer in terms of romance ends up completely lacking.

The cast is rounded out with some surprisingly big names, with Lily James (The Dig) in the role of Zoe and Emma Thompson (Late Night) in the role of her wacky mother. Despite playing characters that are somewhat unlikable in their own unique ways, James and Thompson are a lot of fun when set against each other, and their dynamic feels genuine and relatable. Shazad Latif (Falling for Figaro) also makes for a charming lead, although his dynamic with Lily James is devoid of chemistry. It actually made me wonder halfway through if they might turn out to only be friends, which I’m now convinced could have been a more believable ending.

l-r: Shazad Latif and Lily James in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?. Photo credit: Robert Viglasky ©2022 STUDIOCANAL SAS and Shout! Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Because while I know it is a traditional rom-com to its core, the film often feels far more dramatic in its tone, and the resolution feels like something of a disservice to the themes seemingly built in the first hour of the narrative. While the focus on assisted marriages is fairly interesting, the movie doesn’t take its exploration far enough, despite the over-long runtime. The experiences it brings up concerning racism, discrimination, and cultural clash all feel sincere, but they are undercut by these tone and story problems, with saccharine music cues, an oversimplified solution, and flat characters.

That being said, the complexity the film offers with the messiness of its relationships feels honest to real-life. Much like how Zoe often retells classic fairytales to kids with a hilarious modern angle, this movie feels like something traditional with a bit of a twist. And although it might not completely work, the delightful cast, a couple of funny lines, and a surprising level of complexity all offer something worth watching, even if the central romance does not.

l-r: Emma Thompson and Lily James in WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?. Photo credit: Robert Viglasky ©2022 STUDIOCANAL SAS and Shout! Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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