Advertisement

Movie review: 'What's Love Got to Do With It?' finds charm in arranged marriage

Shazad Latif and Lily James star in "What's Love Got to Do With It?" Photo courtesy of STUDIOCANAL SAS and Shout! Studios
1 of 6 | Shazad Latif and Lily James star in "What's Love Got to Do With It?" Photo courtesy of STUDIOCANAL SAS and Shout! Studios

LOS ANGELES, May 1 (UPI) -- What's Love Got to Do With It?, in theaters Friday, has nothing to do with the Tina Turner song. It is a romantic comedy about arranged marriages, which necessarily puts a clever twist on the formula.

Zoe (Lily James) is surprised when childhood friend Kaz (Shazad Latif) agrees to let his parents arrange his marriage. A documentary filmmaker, Zoe chronicles Kaz's journey to explore what arranged marriage is like in the present day..

Advertisement

A romantic comedy, by nature, follows the formula "boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back." There can be variations on it, such as boy meets boy, or the popular "falling in love with the person you hate the most" trope.

But, arranged marriage shakes all of that up. For starters, Kaz doesn't even get to meet his future partner until much later in the process.

Advertisement

Written by Jemima Khan and directed by Shekhar Kapur, What's Love Got to Do With It? makes a strong case for arranged marriage remaining a reasonable option for consenting parties. It's got to be better than swiping on apps.

Kaz is sincerely invested in the process, and his family is genuinely looking out for his best interests. Of course, there is awkwardness, and that's where the comedy comes in.

The woman on whom they settle, Maymouna (Sajal Ali), seems to be a little more resigned to the process. It could be that she's just shy, or that her family is overwhelming her, but the film is sensitive to what it may feel like on both sides.

Zoe is the foreign perspective in all this. She does approach her documentary trying to be sold on a concept that seems outdated to her.

She asks some uncomfortable questions, but as a responsible documentarian asking what her viewers will be wondering, too. It's as respectful as one can imagine a 2-hour hour movie about a cultural practice could be without sacrificing the narrative.

Zoe experiences a Western version of arranged marriage when her mother (Emma Thompson) fixes her up with a veterinarian (Oliver Chris). It's not quite as binding, but it suggests there are universal instincts parents in any culture have regarding their children's love lives.

Advertisement

What's Love Got to Do With It? gets away with doing the When Harry Met Sally interview segments with its fictional characters because it invokes the classic rom-com as inspiration for Zoe's documentary.

Zoe interviews Kaz and Maymouna, as well as other couples in their families, so technically they're part of her film, but they end up in What's Love Got to Do With It? by default.

Ultimately, the film shows there is no perfect formula for relationships. But rom-coms have a way of oversimplifying relationships so What's Love Got to Do With It? deserves respect for exploring different cultural practices, while comparing and contrasting the pros and cons of each.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

Latest Headlines