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Having absolutely nothing to do with the Tina Turner biopic of the same name (minus the question mark), What’s Love Got To Do With It? serves as a master class in how to adhere faithfully to the classic romantic-comedy template and yet still emerge with something that delivers delightfully on both sides of the hyphen.
Serving as the first foray into the rom-com arena for filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, of Elizabeth and Bandit Queen renown, the effervescent cross-culture confection may not be the first to examine the practice of arranged marriage in the age of Tinder, but Kapur’s soulful touch, working from a knowing script by Jemima Khan, hits all the desired marks.
Top it off with a lovely lead performance by Lily James and a bitingly funny one by Emma Thompson, and you’ve got the type of world premiere TIFF entry that tends to fare quite well when the annual People’s Choice votes are tallied. It’s no surprise the name Working Title Films appears in the credits, given how snugly the production fits in the Love, Actually/Four Weddings and a Funeral mold.
Struggling to figure out what to do for an encore, award-winning British documentary filmmaker Zoe (James) ends up training her camera on something decidedly close to home — namely her lifelong friend and next-door neighbor Kaz (Shazad Latif), who has informed her of his intentions to honor his Pakistan-born parents’ wishes by agreeing to an arranged marriage.
While the news comes as a bit of a shock to Zoe, who clearly shares an easy chemistry with Kaz, the concept isn’t completely unappealing to her, or her exuberant divorced mum Cath (Thompson), for that matter, who is trying to fix her up with her dog’s nice-guy vet (Oliver Chris). After weathering a series of one-date disasters, Zoe indeed begins to wonder if Kaz’s mother might not be wrong when she offers up the family wisdom that it’s better to fall into like and walk into love — especially when it’s pointed out that the divorce rate in the U.K. for arranged unions is about one-tenth that of conventional ones.
Still, she’s admittedly taken aback when he informs her he’s engaged to be married to the seemingly introverted young woman (Sajal Aly) whom he was introduced to a mere week earlier via Skype. With her camera and mother in tow, Zoe travels to Lahore for the wedding festivities, uncovering some revealing truths in the process.
Although there have been previous rom-coms built around family-dictated “assisted” marriages versus the power of attraction, few have managed to so satisfyingly balance the laugh-out-loud funny with the romantic longing and sense of belonging so effectively captured in Kapur’s sensitive direction and Khan’s script.
But just because love may be blind, it doesn’t mean cultural and ethnic differences go unnoticed in contemporary society. It’s an observation Khan’s script doesn’t shy away from making on several occasions, including Kaz mentioning he wants to arrive at the airport early “so I can be randomly selected.”
As Zoe, meanwhile, the terrific James, whose versatile body of work has run the gamut from Cinderella to Pam & Tommy, conveys an aching vulnerability as a young woman using her camera as a buffer between her subjects and her own personal fears and insecurities.
Vibrantly filmed by Remi Adefarasin (Oscar nominated for Elizabeth), who bathes the production in rich, warm hues, with similarly cozy production design by Simon Elliott, What’s Love Got to Do With It? rewardingly succeeds in answering its own rhetorical question.
Cast: Lily James, Shazad Latif, Emma Thompson, Sajal Aly, Asim Chaudhry, Jeff Mirza
Production companies: STUDIOCANAL, Working Title Films, Instinct Productions
Director: Shekhar Kapur
Screenwriter: Jemima Khan
Producers: Nicky Kentish Barnes, Jemima Khan, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner
Executive producers: Ron Halpern, Anna Marsh, Joe Naftalin, Sarmad Masud, Sarah Harvey, Lucas Webb, Katherine Pomfret
Director of photography: Remi Adefarasin
Production designer: Simon Elliott
Editors: Guy Bensley, Nick Moore
Music: Nitin Sawhney
1 hour 48 minutes
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