Film review: cultures clash in superb romcom instant classic What's Love Got To Do With It?
What's Love Got To Do With It? manages to be that rare thing, a sweet, charming and thoroughly enjoyable romcom that actually has something to say – about the way we live our lives and the choices we make. It also manages that even rarer thing – a romcom that leaves you intrigued all the way through as to how exactly it is going to get to where you are pretty sure it is going to go.
The story centres on Zoe (Lily James) and Kazim (Shazad Latif), neighbours from Nos 47 and 49, and we know from the start that they ought to be together. The trouble is that they don’t know it and they are actively conspiring against it. As Kazim says, a whole continent lies between their two houses. He is the British-born son of Pakistani parents; she is wholly Brit. And it is their attitudes too. As Kazim says, Zoe spends her life choosing precisely the wrong guys so that she can stay single. He on the other hand is about to embark on an arranged marriage. Or assisted marriage as he prefers to call it. And he has rehearsed all the arguments: marrying for love ends up in a 60 per cent divorce rate; in assisted marriages the rate tumbles to five per cent. He is adamant: let reason dictate your choice and let love develop. For Kazim it’s pragmatism over passion over time.
Zoe is horrified and fascinated. And conveniently she is an award-winning documentary film-maker so she badgers Kazim into letting her document his entire journey, alongside his family – from letting his parents choose his bride through to their wedding in Lahore.
James is superb is the role, always watchable, sweet but vulnerable; and Latif is her match in everything (except love, it seems), determined to stick to his guns. Kazim’s family beautifully come alive; the only consistently jarring note in the film is Emma Thompson as Zoe’s mum. She’s meant to be larger than life and embarrassing, and indeed she gets most of the best lines, but more often than not she’s a grating presence in a film that goes much deeper than she allows it when she’s there.
But despite her, it all adds up to a warm and captivating tale, with the leads taking you with them every step of their diverging paths – for all you find yourself willing them to see sense and get it together. Complicating it all still further are the divisions that free marital choice have caused in Kazim’s family (a “wayward” sister who marries for love), plus Zoe’s mum hectoring her into hooking up with an amiable vet, a Plan B which means giving up on Plan A when it’s staring her in the face.
Shekhar Kapur directs masterfully and colourfully, particularly in those Lahore scenes, a tale written by Jemima Khan who understands the clash of cultures well having married Pakistan cricket star and future Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan.
In the end, he, she and the cast deliver a thoughtful, impressive and extremely likeable piece which offers some appealing home truths about all the virtues of compromise and togetherness and about the ways we might achieve our happiness.
Showing from February 24.