What’s Love Got to Do With It? (2023)

Although I do my best to remain eclectic in my film-watching, some genres I tend to not so much avoid but rather omit based on seeking entertainment elsewhere. You might call it an implicit genre bias that leads me naturally and subconsciously to steer away from certain kinds of movies without necessarily engaging in active decision-making.  

So, let’s just say that I am trying to be a good husband and my lovely wife thought it would be a good idea to go out and watch something. No. That would be a lie. Because if that had been the only factor in how we ended up heading out to the cinema, I most assuredly would have at least attempted to exert some kind of influence over the choice of what we’d watch. The reality was that we had arranged a playdate for our nine-year-old daughter, and we had three hours to kill… in the middle of the day. Having briefly scrolled through what was available in this brief window of time, the choice was whittled down to either DC League of Super Pets or a rom com with Lily James about a Pakistani tradition of arranged marriage.  

Suffice it to say that the prospect of spending an afternoon unaccompanied by a young human being watching a movie the aforementioned young human being would have likely enjoyed seemed a bit cruel and perhaps indicative of parental Stockholm Syndrome. Therefore, having no other recourse I held my nose, and we went to see a rom com with Lily James about a Pakistani tradition of arranged marriage.  

At this point, I don’t really know what to tell you because I am not a fan of leaning heavily on circular definitions, but What’s Love Got to Do with It? Is for the most part just a romantic comedy of the most forgettable variety. In fact, it is so damn forgettable that when my good buddy Randy, with whom I podcast every Friday, asked me what it was I went to see, I couldn’t remember the title. And it was merely four hours after the film had ended. A good chunk of what this movie is about is so perfectly formulaic that it could just as well be literally any of a number of romantic comedies you could blindly pick from your Netflix library after searching for “romantic comedy” in the search bar. In fact, even the gimmick of this movie on its own isn’t particularly fresh and conceptually presents itself as a machination designed to progress the pair of its protagonists – a documentary filmmaker Zoe (Lily James) and Kaz (Shahad Latif), her next door neighbour who decides to follow the tradition of getting his family to arrange his marriage – to an expected familiar endpoint.  

However, as the movie plods along the series of Bridget Jonesy dramatic beats and takes Zoe, through whose optics we observe the entire affair, on a journey to discover the Pakistani culture and more importantly to come to terms with her own romantic desires, it also – slowly but surely – reveals itself as a story with an interesting false bottom. That’s because underneath the glossy fairy tale about a brooding artist leapfrogging between terrible relationship decisions and her best friend suppressing his own instincts and openly refusing to acknowledge the simple fact he has always had the love of his life living right next door lies a story about familial ties, which is equally laid out in extremely simple terms as it is complex in its organic nature.  

In actuality, once you clue into the fact that the movie carries this subliminal quasi-narrative journey hidden between the predictable lines of a schmaltzy romantic comedy, you shall see What’s Love Got to Do With It? as quite a bit more layered than you’d normally expect a canonical rom com to ever aspire to. Sure, you are still welcome to latch onto the melodic familiarity of following Zoe on her journey of self-discovery, if that’s your bag. You might also find something in the admittedly sanitized and glitzified look behind the curtain of an exotic tradition that some of your neighbours may cultivate in the privacy of their own homes, complete with resplendent attention to detail and a bit of a running commentary (because we do observe all this through the eyes of a newcomer to the culture) offering some accessibility to this facet of the story.  

But for my money, what made this movie worth watching in the end was a simple decision to shift the focus just by a few degrees – especially towards the end of the film – and remind the viewer that traditions aren’t there to be performatively executed to keep families together, but rather that it’s the other way around. A family with a strong inner core will always find ways to keep its culture innate. These few moments, where a fundamental familial drama involving abandonment, reconciliation and emotionally resounding reunions earnestly shines through the thick layer of rom com buttercream frosting, give the entire film its character and personality.  

In fact, I would even go as far as to say that Shekhar Kapur (who directed it) could have perhaps made the decision to cut to black almost exactly four minutes earlier than he did, just to subvert the expectations of a typical rom com and leave what I know is coming formally unresolved. And in doing so, he would have shifted the perspective of the entire movie enough to make the audience, who had come to experience a familiar fairy tale about romantic love, leave the cinema thinking they just saw a movie about maternal acceptance and reconciliation that crosses cultural boundaries, brings families together and forces tears out of eyes of men who came to see this movie while holding their nose.  


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s