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TIFF 2022 Review: What’s Love Got to Do With It? – “An elevated and welcome new slant on the rom-com genre”

Courtesy of TIFF

In the tradition of Richard Curtis British rom-coms like Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually comes What’s Love Got to Do With It? No, this film has nothing to do with Tina Turner, though it also might believe that love is a ‘second-hand emotion,’ something that is less instant passion and more sustained.  “It’s better to fall into like and walk into love,” says Kazim Khan’s mother (Shabana Azmi) who met her own husband on her wedding day as part of an arranged marriage.  Now with Kazim’s (Shazad Latif) blessing, they are hoping to find him a suitable bride through his own ‘assisted’ marriage.

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Yet, Kazim’s next-door neighbour and childhood friend Zoe (Lily James) isn’t on board with what she feels is an outdated custom. At the same time, she hasn’t been terribly successful in her own love life either.  At this point, she would be happy with someone who could commit to watching a TV series with her.  An award-winning documentarian, she suggests to her financiers that she follow Kazim on his journey for a partner, and as they’re looking, without any sensitivity, to check off all sorts of boxes with their next project (woman director, multi-cultural subject matter) they agree.  But as she discovers, there is an ‘entire continent’ between houses 47 and 49.  She has a lot to learn about culture, family, and ultimately love.

With a smart, witty screenplay from Jemima Khan (in her screenwriting debut), What’s Love Got to Do With It? is a rich, colourful, and vibrant romantic comedy.  Directed by Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, The Four Feathers) the film introduces us to the Khan family and all their differing opinions about love.  Kazim’s parents, from Pakistan, believe that love is best if developed, that it is better to simmer than to start off at a boil and run the pot dry.  Kazim, who was born in Britain, understands the want for ‘love at first sight’ type of passion, more common to western culture.  But he ultimately chooses his family, over chemistry, acknowledging that assisted marriages are typically more successful than the unions of those who get to choose their own partner, having a high divorce rate.  This type of insight into cultural differences isn’t typical of a standard rom-com and it’s refreshing to see it represented on screen.

Lily James is simply perfect as our leading lady whose chemistry with Latif (an equally impeccable leading man) is subtle and earned.  But it’s Emma Thompson, not surprisingly, that steals each scene as Zoe’s eccentric and often culturally insensitive mother.  I think a lot of us can relate to a parent like her, who means well, but just never has the right thing to say.  Khan’s inclusion and writing for her character was particularly clever.

What’s Love Got to Do With It? ultimately gives us an elevated and welcome new slant on the rom-com genre.  It finds different aspects of love, and stresses the importance of family in our relationships.  There’s a space between the passionate love story often told and the ‘friend zone’, and it’s not often depicted and explored.  This film however finds it, it relishes its time there, and shows us that love really can be something that grows, that simmers – that the long game is sometimes so much more rewarding.

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