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26th March 2023

What’s Love Got to Do with It? review: Fickle feel-good film falls flat

Working Title’s latest romantic comedy leaves much to be desired
What’s Love Got to Do with It? review: Fickle feel-good film falls flat
Photo: Robert Viglasky / ©2022 STUDIOCANAL SAS

The title of Jemima Khan’s debut screenplay may remind you of the 1993 Tina Turner biopic of the same name. Unfortunately, the mixed messaging and missed opportunities for originality don’t end there.

What’s Love Got to Do with It? follows filmmaker Zoe (Lily James), who decides to document her British-Pakistani childhood best friend Kaz’s (Shazad Latif) assisted marriage for her next project. Assisted marriage is the politically correct term for arranged marriage where parents help their child find a spouse without expectations or enforcement. Zoe’s documentary includes interviews with Kaz’s parents, his brother Farooq (Mim Shaikh), and sister-in-law Yasmin (Iman Boujelouah) who all found love through assisted marriages. 

Khan’s efforts to demystify assisted marriage and love in South Asian culture are well-intended. The characters articulate the pragmatism of assisted marriage with memorably pithy lines such as “simmer first, then boil”, “a companion, not a click”, and “walking into love” rather than falling in love. Sharp comparisons are made between South Asian assisted marriages and Western practices of being ‘set up’ by parents, or allowing a Tinder algorithm to select a suitable match. 

I enjoyed Khan’s vibrant, heartwarming depiction of Pakistan, alongside her necessary inclusion of the negative aspects of South Asian culture. These include the burden of shame, issues with colourism, and the judgment that may accompany marrying someone from a different race or religion. 

Zoe’s mother, Cath (Emma Thompson), struggles to be politically correct. However, the gentle correction of her remarks, and her love of the Khan family, result in their religion and culture never being the butt of the joke. Cath’s character, and the growth that Kaz’s family undergoes, inspire hope that older generations can become more progressive and open-minded.

Kaz, however, is not characterised in this way. There is a scene where Kaz and his parents sit down with professional matchmaker, Mo (Asim Chaudhry), to discuss the kind of woman he’d like to meet. Kaz passively tolerates his parents’ misogyny, including their suggestion that his potential match should not be “too ambitious”, and their view that the niqab is incompatible with “modern family” values. 

The matchmaking scene starts off being reminiscent of a mockumentary, with Mo and Kaz’s mum Aisha (Shabana Azmi) excitedly breaking the fourth wall – before being reminded by Zoe to carry on as normal and ignore the camera. A consistent mockumentary format throughout the film could have been a breath of fresh air which allowed more comedic opportunities and insight into character motivations.

Farooq and Yasmin describe how they connected at an event that explored the Islamic values in the Harry Potter series. JK Rowling’s notoriety for being transphobic was common knowledge at the time that filming for What’s Love Got to Do with It? took place. Additionally, the Harry Potter series itself is riddled with bigotry that directly opposes Islamic values – rendering this plot point ill-fitting for a film aiming to celebrate diversity and acceptance.

Kaz’s assisted marriage gets off to an equally frustrating start. When Kaz and his match, Maymouna (Sajal Aly), meet over Skype for the first time, she is clearly distressed – with a forlorn expression, on the verge of tears. Kaz does not pick up on these obvious visual cues, which feels unrealistic given that he is a doctor who should know how to interpret body language for safeguarding purposes.

The film’s ‘big reveal’ – that Maymouna was coerced by her parents into marrying Kaz – is unsurprising to the audience. Since their assisted marriage is given the most screen time, this revelation complicates the film’s messaging by encouraging the conflation of assisted marriage with forced marriage – a harmful misconception. 

Cultural and religious components aside, What’s Love Got to Do with It? offers little in the way of romance. There were only two attempted moments of romantic connection between Kaz and Zoe, both failing due to Latif’s inability to emote tenderness. The couple’s romantic storyline is swallowed up by the film’s larger conversations around love and marriage, making their inevitable union feel unearned.

Universal’s Bros is wittier, more romantic, and more insightful than What’s Love Got to Do with It?, and Disney’s Ms Marvel portrays Islam and South Asian culture with greater authenticity. Despite glimmers of promise within the writing, and the actors doing their best with what they were given, love does not have a lot to do with how I feel about this film. 




What’s Love Got to Do with It? is in cinemas now.

Sumayyah Khalid

Sumayyah Khalid

Winner of Writer of the Year (The Mancunion) (SU Awards 2023) | Highly Commended for Best Newcomer (The Mancunion) (SU Awards 2023) | Shortlisted for Best Newcomer (Rising Star) in the UK (SPA National Awards 2023)

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