What's Love Got to Do with It?

The title is far from the biggest problem with What’s Love Got to Do with It?. Nevertheless, the movie should not have been given that name, which belongs to the 1993 Tina Turner biopic that earned Angela Bassett a richly-deserved Oscar nomination. During this comedy about an arranged marriage, one of the characters describes the topic as “Love, Contractually” and “Love at First Skype,” either of which would have been an astronomically better title. I mention this because it’s emblematic of the formulaic, tossed-off nature of the story. Watching the film, you feel like you’ve already seen it a million times.

Zoe (Lily James) is an unlucky-in-love documentary filmmaker whose mother Cath (Emma Thompson) is constantly pushing her to become involved with different men. Her longtime best friend Kazim (Shazad Latif) has decided to ask his traditional Indian parents to select a bride for him – or, as he calls it, perform an “assisted marriage.” Zoe asks if she can film the process as a new work, and he reluctantly agrees. Kazim’s parents choose Maymouna (Sajal Ali), a ravishingly beautiful young woman who’s clearly not into it and only agreeing to the union to please her own parents.

Of course, Kazim pretends not to see that because if he did the movie would be over. You’ve likely already guessed that he and Zoe are secretly in love with each other, so What’s Love Got to Do with It? has to spend an inordinate amount of time acting as though they won’t get together in the end. We’ve seen this scenario played out in dozens, if not hundreds, of rom-coms before. Five minutes into this film, we already know how it’s going to end. That means spending 103 more very long minutes waiting for the story to reach its inevitable conclusion.

A big reason why the formula doesn’t work this time is that what happens between Zoe and Kazim is not compelling. James and Latif have weak chemistry, so there isn’t a lot of interest in seeing their characters become romantically involved. Even worse, director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) and writer Jemima Khan trod through the same old cultural cliches about conservative Indian parents trying to force their liberal-minded adult children into relationships. That sort of material was handled with more intelligence and humor in India Sweets and Spices and 7 Days.

What’s Love Got to Do with It? drags badly, thanks to its endless recycling of old ideas and lack of a new perspective. Seeing Lily James and Emma Thompson together is fun, although they sadly don’t get a whole lot of scenes. I’m not sure why anyone wanted to make this film. They could have made something unique and special. Instead, they opted to go through the motions, relying on a story template that, quite frankly, has been done to death.

out of four

What's Love Got to Do with It? is rated PG-13 for strong language including a sexual reference, some suggestive material and brief drug material. The running time is 1 hour and 48 minutes.