NOW IN THEATERS! Has the idea of arranged marriages fallen by the wayside, or is there some wisdom to the process? Writer Jemima Khan and director Shekhar Kapur explore all the possibilities love offers in their feature rom-com, What’s Love Got To Do With It?.
Zoe (Lily James) is an award-winning documentarian and dating app addict. After finding herself yearning in vain to find love on an endless string of dates with one Mr. Wrong after the other, Zoe has become incredibly jaded toward the dating scene and is giving up on finding happiness. While pitching ideas for her next documentary, Zoe remembers her childhood friend and neighbor, Kaz (Shazad Latif). After several unsuccessful dates, he decided to leave and follow the Pakistani tradition of his Muslim parents arranging — I mean assisting — in finding a suitable bride.
Zoe gets the green light to create a film about arranged marriages with Kaz as the prime subject. She then follows her friend and his family from London to Lahore. There they meet Mo the Matchmaker (Asim Chaudhry), who takes them on a Pakistani speed-dating adventure. Ultimately, Kaz is matched with Maymouna (Sajal Aly), a twenty-something law student. She’s not exactly thrilled with the process but accepts what must be done. Complications arise when Cath (Emma Thompson), Zoe’s mother, makes a drunken fool of herself with various ethnic and religious faux pas at the wedding. Of course, that is when Zoe questions whether Kaz is truly happy. All of it is captured on the documentarian’s camera.
What’s Love Got to Do With It? is a standard romantic comedy. Two lifelong friends, Zoe and Kaz, are standing on the sidelines as the other makes horrible mistakes in love while seeing and yet not seeing their true feelings. In other words, predictability is inherent in the genre that this film does not escape. Where this stands out from the pack is finding love and romance from a Persian and Muslim perspective. I’ll be honest; this is a whole new world for me. Khan and Kapur not only bring the Pakistani perspective on romance but also incorporate it into modern English culture.
“Zoe gets the green light to create a film about arranged marriages with Kaz as the prime subject.”
This perspective is so specific and asks tough questions from a cross-cultural perspective that I don’t think it could be told in the United States without ruffling woke feathers. The film also uses talking head interviews, ala When Harry Met Sally, to explore the pros and cons of arranged marriages. Sticking with the main point, there’s an honest attempt to wrestle with the modern idea of women’s roles in traditional Muslim marriages. This is then seen through the eyes of a Westerner in Zoe, who questions the tradition.
In my eyes, the only weakness is the tropes of the rom-com genre the film leans into. The humor is light and reminiscent of popular British romances like Love Actually and Notting Hill. Since Zoe is filming a documentary, her subjects give talking head testimonials which range from scripted heartfelt testimony to sometimes cringey attempts at humor. Still, while What’s Love Got to Do With It? may not be groundbreaking, it represents a point of view that goes unnoticed today.
It was wise of the filmmakers to anchor their film with veteran actors Lily James and Emma Thompson. The recognizable star power of the two gives Pakistani actors like Shazad Latif and Shabana Azmi, who plays Kaz’s mother, chances to shine in a high-profile production. James is no stranger to romance, and though not exactly a groundbreaking role, she comes through with the right emotional beats.
If you’re not a fan of romance, What’s Love Got to Do With It? will not make you a believer. I think the film will speak more to the Muslim community in general. Though I am neither British nor Muslim, the story piqued my curiosity about love in Muslim culture.
"…piqued my curiosity about love in Muslim culture."