REVIEW: ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It?’ — At Least Something, Clearly

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What's Love Got to Do With It

What’s Love Got To Do With It is a rom-com directed by Shekhar Kapur and written by Jemima Khan that tries to ask its eponymous question concerning marriage. When Zoe (Lily James), whose mother (Emma Thompson) is constantly on her case about not being married, finds out her long-time friend and next-door neighbor Kazim (Shazad Latif) is seeking an arranged marriage, she makes the rash decision to film a documentary about it.

I really admire the swing this movie takes. Discerning the business of the heart is no small task, and it tactfully explores the polar beliefs that marriage should be functional and that marriage should be amorous. Every argument it makes for why arrangement (or assisted) marriages can be a positive experience, at least by the Pakistani-British standard the film sets are genuine and make sense. Especially as the movie clearly compares this process to the no-different situation where Zoe is being set up with her mother’s veterinarian without her consent. For Kazim, the arrangement process is no different that any other modern courting. For Zoe, it’s made to feel like her mother is shoving an archaic notion of compulsory heterosexuality in her face.

But, as What’s Love Got to Do With It makes clear over its too-long runtime, love and marriage are messy. Zoe’s notion that all partnerships should be based on a true and mutual love is questioned constantly. I love the irony of the movie’s slight framing device where she tells fairytales to her best friends’ children while constantly changing the outcomes to avoid the “problematic” true love endings while living her life in constant pursuit of that same fairy tale love nonetheless. And Kazim certainly has his fair share of moments where a practical marriage is drawn into question, even if his parents are clear proof that love can easily and gladly be a second step in a union.

Unfortunately, the movie also makes a lot of stumbles as it explores this complicated theme; chiefly, as it inserts a sense of motherhood essentialism into the mix. Zoe “of course” wants to be a mother in a small plot point that never gets picked up again and felt out of place in a movie that otherwise never reflects on her desire to have children, outside of perhaps the parental anxieties Kazim’s family pass onto him. The doctor she speaks to also seems to give an exceedingly and possibly dangerously incorrect, or at least misleading statistic about the rate of success carrying once-frozen eggs to birth. The whole scene just felt abrasive and unnecessary considering the film’s other stances on topics of gender and love.

The other deeply interesting but ultimately not well-enough explored topic that’s broached is the white gaze and perspective within the story. Zoe, a white character, is the point-of-view for the whole movie, and the target audience is meant to be, at least in large part, white. The movie makes explicit commentary by way of Zoe’s documentary on how approaching the topic of arranged marriage from a white perspective/gaze is perhaps inappropriate, if not unfair. In so doing, What’s Love Got to Do With It poignantly reminds its white audience that it’s not their job to judge whether arranged marriage is right or wrong for themselves and rather should follow Kazim’s perspective to garner an understanding.

The movie doesn’t offer a conclusion on its questions of love versus practicality, or if arranged marriage, either traditional or the nagging mother type are valid in modernity, and I think that’s a fair way to approach the topic. Love and marriage are personal and everyone should have the right to choose for themselves by which means they want to find it and what it should look like if and when they do. The issue is merely that the movie is still ultimately from a white vantage point. Its messages get frequently muddled by the fact that Zoe is the main perspective and her opinions are constantly seeping into the movie’s messaging. It’s hard to discern what Kazim is thinking or feeling throughout much of the movie because it’s not his movie in the end.

It’s also hard because his character is just so flat. Zoe’s isn’t much better. The movie uses How Harry Met Sally as another framing device, putting pastiche interviews between couples throughout the movie in moments that unto themselves mostly work. But the success of How Harry Met Sally is that its main characters have impeccable chemistry. Zoe and Kazim have virtually none. You know their fate from the second the movie starts because it’s a rom-com, and that’s fine. It’s not like they repel each other. But there’s virtually nothing that draws them together either. The same can be said of Emma Thompson, who obviously eats scenes because she’s Emma Thompson, but frankly, her role could have been played by any magnanimous actor because it lacks heart and provides mostly comic relief.

What’s Love Got to Do With It has a bold and admirable premise that left me thinking hard about love and marriage, but ultimately, its message is muddled by odd perspectives and a lack of endearing characters.

What’s Love Got to Do With It is playing in theaters May 5th.

What's Love Got to Do With It
  • 5.5/10
    Rating - 5.5/10


What’s Love Got to Do With It has a bold and admirable premise that left me thinking hard about love and marriage, but ultimately, its message is muddled by odd perspectives and a lack of endearing characters.

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