'What's Love Got to Do with It?' Sweetly Answers Its Own Question

Directed by Shekhar Kapur

Starring Lily James, Shazad Latif, Shabana Azmi, Emma Thompson, Sajal Aly, Asim Chaudhry, Jeff Mirza

Photo courtesy of TIFF

BY Alex HudsonPublished May 15, 2023

What's Love Got to Do with It? ticks every box of a successful rom-com: wounded cynics who gradually learn the true meaning of love, questionably realistic jobs and way-too-nice apartments, and Emma Thompson in a supporting role.

Lily James stars as Zoe, an award-winning documentary filmmaker (okay...) who lives in London on a swanky houseboat (yeah, sure). She wants a marriage and children, in theory, but sabotages herself with bad romantic choices, favouring excitement over stability.

When her childhood friend Kazim (Shazad Latif) announces plans to have an arranged marriage — or, rather, an "assisted marriage," where his parents play a role in helping him find a bride, rather than imposing anything — Zoe begins making a documentary movie about him titled Love, Contractually. It's a much better title than the generic What's Love Got to Do with It?, and plus there's the universe-imploding detail that Emma Thompson (who plays Zoe's mom) was in Love, Actually.

Through making her film, Zoe breaks down her very theoretical view of a loving partnership, while Kaz learns that family duty isn't quite as simple as it looks. Thompson capably handles most of the jokes, but the film does family drama even better than comedy, as it ramps up the emotional stakes during a trip to Pakistan in the second half. After the jovial fun of the opening stretch, the film builds to a touching finale, nicely rounding out characters as long-kept secrets are brought into the open.

The only thing keeping What's Love Got to Do with It? from being a truly great rom-com is a lack of electricity between its leads. Zoe and Kaz are compelling characters with an established rapport as friends, but they don't have much "Will you two just kiss already?" sexual chemistry, and their many discussions about love establish that they aren't on the same page when it comes to partnership. As the film inevitably builds towards a union between Zoe and Kaz, I found myself hoping they would stay in the friend zone.

The film's interview segments, in which supporting characters discuss how they fell in love, explicitly evoke When Harry Met Sally; now that's a movie with will-they-won't-they tension.
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