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What’s Love Got to Do with It? review – generic and charmless culture clash rom-com

Shekhar Kapur's London-set film clearly wants to emulate the Richard Curtis classics, but it can't even get the basics right

About three-quarters of the way through the unfunny and unlikeably acted What’s Love Got to Do with It? is when the malaise really starts to set in. The film leading up to this point has by no means been good, but it’s at this crucial juncture that you realise it isn’t going anywhere. Shekhar Kapur’s easily distracted “rom-com” sets a lot of plates spinning, mixing genres and tones as it hops between continents, but pretty much every single one of these plates ends up smashing embarrassingly on the floor.

To get perhaps the most obvious question out of the way – no, What’s Love Got to Do with It? has nothing to do with Tina Turner or her music (the track that gives the film its title doesn’t even appear on the soundtrack). Instead, the eponymous question here refers to the rather business-like practice of arranged (or assisted, to use more modern terminology) marriages. It’s a process that seems utterly alien to our heroine here, unlucky-in-love documentarian Zoe (Lily James), until her best friend and childhood neighbour Kazim (Shazad Latif, AKA Toast of London’s Clem Fandango) decides he wants to settle down in a marriage orchestrated by his patient but traditional Pakistani parents.

Struggling to think of a new project, Zoe proposes that she document the process for her new film, which Kazim agrees to, and so the stage is set for the inevitable realisation that these two really need each other. The fundamental problem with What’s Love Got to Do with It? is that this central premise – the very idea that these two will fall irresistibly in love – never feels believable. These characters are almost entirely charmless on the page, and the performances do not elevate the leaden writing.

James and Latif have minimal chemistry even as friends, let alone romantic interests, and the central documentary gimmick just gets further in the way. The pair all too often have to interact with a camera between them, the inherent annoyance of which Kapur and writer Jemima Khan never find a way around (it’s a bit beside the point, but what we see of Zoe’s documentary also just looks terrible).

Without this central chemistry, most scenes are left to just fizzle out, the fires dampened even further by a plot that just gets far too busy, with hidden family secrets, trips to Pakistan, and Zoe’s own deep-rooted personal issues all vying for attention. It means the romance is shunted off to the side for a decent chunk of the runtime here, whilst the general lack of focus means none of the stories ever find a satisfying or compelling rhythm.

So, the film doesn’t bring the rom – what about the com? Well, this is pretty disastrous too; outside of a film-stealing five-minute cameo for the always brilliant Asim Chaudhry as “Mo the Matchmaker,” none of the big laugh lines land. It’s a problem that is especially pronounced whenever Zoe’s mum Cath (Emma Thompson) pops up on screen. This is amongst the worst performances Thompson has ever given, borderline unwatchable at times when combined with the feeble jokes she’s meant to deliver.

Generic in its culture-clash drama, embarrassing in its comedy, and unconvincing as a romance, What’s Love Got to Do With It? is also just listlessly made. It’s frequently brought low by shabby editing, boring visuals, and some of the most distracting Bad London Geography in recent memory – my breaking point with the whole endeavour was a moment in which Zoe steps out of a Mayfair function for some air and ends up, somehow, on the Southbank. This is a film that is just dying to emulate those classic Richard Curtis London romcoms, a much-missed genre by this point, but it can’t even get the basics of the city it’s set in right.

What's Love Got to Do with It? is released in UK cinemas on 24 February.

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