What’s Love Got to Do with it?  (12) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Shekhar Kapur, UK, 2022, 109 mins, English and Urdu with subtitles

Cast:  Lily James, Shazad Latif, Emma Thompson

Review by Carol Allen

The writer/co-producer of this unjudgmental film about the Asian culture of arranged marriage in the modern world is Jemima Khan, who was formerly married to cricket star and former Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan, so she knows what she’s talking about in this affectionate and unusual rom-com.

Zoe (Lily James) and Kaz (Shazad Latif) were childhood friends.  Their families live next door to each other and Zoe’s mum Cath  (Emma Thompson) still embraces her multi-cultural friendship with Kaz’s parents (Shabana Azmi and Jeff Mirza). 

Now grown up, Zoe, who is a documentary film maker, has had a disenchanting time on the internet dating scene, where “swiping” has failed to find “the one” for her.  Returning home to visit her mum, she and Kaz reconnect and she is shocked to discover that he has decided to go the traditional Muslim route to love via arranged or as it is now known “assisted” marriage to a woman chosen by his parents. 

It is though a good subject for a documentary, so Zoe decides to follow the whole process with her camera;  meeting the matchmaker, finding the bride – law student Maymouna (Sajal Ali), who lives with her family in Pakistan – and going with Kaz and his family and of course Cath, who’s loving it all to Lahore for the elaborate wedding itself.   Along the way the story opens our Western eyes to a much wider and better informed view of Muslim culture in a contemporary context. 

The film is directed by Shekhar Kapur, who brings the same sense of spectacle he brought to his two films about Elizabeth I – the scenes of celebration in Lahore are gorgeous – but also a good feeling for the delicate touch needed for rom com, perhaps with some guidance from Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner, veterans of the genre, who are also on the producer team.

This isn’t a propaganda piece for assisted marriage but a multifaceted and entertaining look at the search for lasting love in the modern world.  In the course of making her film, Zoe uncovers the sad story of Kaz’s sister Sumaira (Taj Atwal), who has been excluded from her family because she married a white Englishman, so her parents have never met their first grandchild.   While Cath, In desperation at her daughter’s failure to find a suitable partner, tries a bit of assisting herself, when she introduces Zoe to that nice young local vet James (Oliver Chris).   Could this be the solution to Zoe’s solo state?

Lily James is charming and vivacious as Zoe and the strength of her friendship with the handsome Latif as Kaz is totally believable, while Thompson is warm and funny as Cath.  While following most of the rules that make for an entertaining rom com, What’s Love…? also gives a fascinating insight into a culture for which Khan obviously still has both respect and affection.