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May 19, 2023 / Mongrel Media

Starring: Mim Shaikh, Lily James, Emma Thompson, Iman Boujelouah

Directed By: Shekhar Kapur

How do you find lasting love in today's world? For documentary-maker and dating app addict Zoe (Lily James), swiping right has only delivered an endless stream of Mr. Wrongs to her eccentric mother Cath's (Emma Thompson) dismay. For Zoe's childhood friend and neighbor Kaz (Shazad Latif), the answer is to follow his parents' example and opt for an arranged (or "assisted") marriage to a bright and beautiful bride from Pakistan. As Zoe films his hopeful journey from London to Lahore to marry a stranger chosen by his parents, she begins to wonder if she might have something to learn from a profoundly different approach to finding love.

Written By Darren

Rating 3.5 out of 5

What's Love Got To Do With It? is a delightful romantic comedy that has all the hallmarks that fans have come to love from the genre with a unique cross-cultural lens through which the story is told, led by the always charming Lily James.

Romantic comedies are always a crowd pleaser with their feel good and heartfelt plots, that despite knowing exactly how the film is going to end, always becomes a film I need to see. But when you have the always wonderful Lily James and Emma Thompson in two of the film’s lead roles, it instantly became a must watch at the Toronto International Film Festival over a number of more critically acclaimed films because I knew this film would be a lot of fun. And from the second the film started, I was laughing and had a massive smile on my face.

For her latest film, director Shekhar Kapur tackles modern online dating mixed in with traditional Pakistani arranged marriage in a film that touches on dating, family, and following your heart. The film follows Lily James’s Zoe, a young documentarian filmmaker, whose next project is chronicling her best friend Kazim’s traditional, arranged Pakistani marriage to a woman he has never met while she stumbles through her own dating problems as a young woman living in London. The screenplay does a wonderful job capturing Pakistani and immigrant culture through Kazim and his family while highlighting their values and beliefs surrounding the importance of family, arranged marriage and maintaining their culture despite living in the United Kingdom. Especially in the film’s final act where these values and beliefs drive the story and the relationships between the characters, even if the chemistry is not necessarily on fire between the film’s two leads.

While the lens through which the story is told is unique, the story itself follows the usual beats of the romantic comedy genre: two best friends not willing to acknowledge their true feelings for the other, while one prepares for a marriage while the other is forced to watch while being supportive. Throughout the film, Zoe reworks fairy tales for modern times to create independent women for her best friend’s daughters, which is a nice conduit for Zoe’s story where she breaks the female stereotype of romantic comedies of the 1990s and 2000s. The script itself is packed with all the jokes that you would expect from such a film, plus lots of hilarious moments stemming from the cultural differences between Zoe and Kazim’s family from Thompson who stars as Zoe’s mother Cath. While Cath does represent the stereotypical views of Western culture towards Pakistani culture, the screenplay ensures that there is no malice in her character which allows each outrageous line she blurts out to be absolutely hilarious and for Thompson to be a consistent scene stealer throughout the film.

Though, the shining star of the film is James. She has a natural charm and beauty that makes her the perfect lead for a romantic comedy as the girl next door. Bringing a warmth to every scene, as well as an independence that makes Zoe a strong woman as she navigates her love life while remaining professional during the filming of her next documentary, it’s another wonderful performance from James. While combined with Thompson, these two excellent actresses light up the screen with a dynamic energy that cannot be matched that results in some of the best moments of the entire film.

Opposite James as Kazim is Shazad Latif, and he is a good male lead. He does a great job of capturing the inner turmoil in Kazim as he agrees to an arranged marriage after not being successful dating in a modern age, wrestling with the Western culture that he has grown up with his family traditions and his unexpressed love for Zoe. As a pair, James and Latif have okay chemistry, it’s enough to create the romantic storyline between the two of them, but it never sends sparks flying that audiences will want from this type of film. Luckily, it’s impossible not to fall in love with James, which makes up for their underbaked chemistry as the audience is instantly in love with her.

The supporting cast is a lot of fun, each having their big comedic moment that helps generate laughs and moments where they interject undeniable heart into the story. But, it is very much James’s film as she carries the emotions of the story from start to finish. While it does not reinvent the romantic comedy genre by any standard, What's Love Got To Do With It? is a crowd pleasing experience thanks to Lily James and Emma Thompson’s wonderful performances that distinguishes itself from other romantic comedies due to the focus on Pakistani culture and documentary filmmaking.

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