I’m guessing that 99.9% of reviews for Shekhar Kapur’s romantic comedy “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” starring Lily James and Shazad Latif will mention that it has nothing to do with Tina Turner.  But if you listen to the lyrics of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s song that bears the same title, they are spot on in relation to the screenplay by Jemima Khan.

“It may seem to you that I’m acting confused

When you’re close to me

If I tend to look dazed I’ve read it someplace

I’ve got cause to be

There’s a name for it

There’s a phrase that fits”

James plays a documentary filmmaker named Zoe Stevenson who grew up in London next door to best friend Kaz Khan (Shazad Latif), a doctor whose parents (Shabana Azmi and Jeff Mirza) were born in Pakistan.  Emma Thompson plays Zoe’s free-spirited mom Cath who we first meet tearing up the dancefloor at the home wedding for Kaz’s brother Farooq (Mim Shaikh) and new bride Yasmin (Iman Boujelouah), an arranged marriage (as in the parents choose the spouses) better referred to these days as an “assisted” marriage in this ultra-sensitive age of political correctness.  

Despite the fact they shared a kiss in a treehouse during childhood, Zoe and Kaz grew up as friends, nothing more, both unsuccessful in relationships, unlike their professional lives.  Now in their 30s, careers full speed ahead, the two are once again hanging in the treehouse in the film’s opening scene while Farooq’s wedding takes place inside.  While chatting and puffing on a cigarette (his parents don’t know he drinks and smokes), Kaz reveals he’s getting married.  When Zoe asks, “Who’s the lucky lady?” Kaz responds, “Don’t know yet” and then reveals he’s going old school and getting an arranged married or “assisted marriage,” as he points out, “That’s what we call it these days.”

Zoe is shocked by her best friend’s announcement as is the viewer because we know this good-looking, financially secure doctor shouldn’t have a problem attracting anyone.  “I can’t get my head around marrying someone you don’t know” comments Zoe, still visibly shaken by the announcement, but Kaz insists the process is easier than finding someone on your own while turning the spotlight on Zoe who is still searching for Mr. Right.  Let me just say, we are only a few minutes into Kapur’s rom-com, and we know exactly where it’s going.  Predictable?  Yes, obviously the two have a secret crush on each other, but in no way does that make the film less charming.

In a crunch to get her next documentary funded, Zoe pitches the arranged marriage idea to her producers who like it in a “When Harry was Forced to Meet Sally” kind of way.  When Zoe points out that Kaz isn’t being forced into the union by his parents, he came up with the idea, the producers (think two obnoxious hipsters who play with toys while slouched in chairs) see the doc as “My Big Fat Arranged Wedding.”  Zoe gets greenlit, Kaz, hesitant at first, agrees to be the subject of her film, and with her camera and mother in tow, the award-winning documentarian heads to Lahore to join the Khan family as the traditional Muslim marriage process begins.

Before heading to Pakistan, Kaz and his parents meet with charismatic Mo the Matchmaker whose Matrimonial Bureau guarantees to find a suitable match for the eligible doc after listening to the family’s requirements.  “Someone intelligent and attractive” suggests Kaz, or maybe “someone who can just tolerate my parents” he jokes.  Speaking of which, Mamma Khan suggests someone “soft-spoken and not too dark”, while the elder Mr. Khan wants “someone not too ambitious and not into this Women’s lib.”  Who’s the lucky girl? 22-year-old Maymouna (Sajal Ali).  She’s pretty, quiet, traditional, and career-minded (Prelaw), so the age gap doesn’t seem to bother all parties involved. 

Once in Lahore for the three-day wedding (engagements not necessary) Zoe interviews various family members who share their own arranged marriage stories for her documentary.  Some are heartfelt, others funny (like the Harry Potter couple) but they all seem to have one thing in common; love came “after” marriage not vice-versa.

Vibrant colors abound, from the beautiful clothing worn by the wedding party to the palatial Pakistani estate with lush surroundings, as the first of several ceremonies gets underway.  By the time Nitin Sawhney’s lively “Mahi Sona (AKA The Wedding Song)” begins playing and the Dabke female dancers get the party started, the older folks are calling it a night, minus Cath who of course is on the dancefloor busting moves. Maymouna begins to show her true colors and age, gone is the shy, sweet-natured traditionalist Kaz met on Skype, we now see her controlling the dancefloor and introducing her soon-to-be-husband and Zoe to her gay best friend Tucky who is known for bringing the area’s best marijuana. 

As Zoe continues filming her documentary, the repressed feelings she and Kaz have for each other keep trying to surface but there’s interference from the parents, the wedding party, and the single veterinarian (Oliver Chris) who keeps calling Zoe, a result of Cath playing matchmaker.

The film also illuminates the estranged relationship Kaz and his parents have with his sister Jamila (Mariam Haque), a new mother, who was shunned by the family after she married David (Michael Marcus) a non-Muslim.  Zoe’s documentary is supposed to look at all sides of the assisted marriage debate so there are plenty of negative aspects that come to light during the film’s final chapter, causing tension and a feeling of betrayal between Zoe and the Khan family.

Shekhar Kapur, who directed the biopic “Elizabeth” starring Cate Blanchett in 2002, doesn’t try to pull off any shocks or surprises. The comedy seems forced on occasion, and Emma Thompson’s talent is wasted with a wacky role.  The good news, Lily James and Shazad Latif have good chemistry and they are quite charming.  It’s interesting to see the assisted marriage debate from both sides and Kapur wraps up the ending nicely. It’s hit and miss for “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” but the film’s leads make it entertaining to watch.

(3 stars)

Opens Friday at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and in theatres

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Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.