A thumpingly middle-class love letter to those classic 90s romcoms with Lily James and Emma Thompson: BRIAN VINER reviews What’s Love Got To Do With It?
What’s Love Got To Do With It? (12A, 108 mins)
Verdict: Engagingly retro
Although What’s Love Got To Do With It? is a decent title for a romantic comedy, it was an even better title for a Tina Turner biopic back in 1993.
But this version — directed by Shekhar Kapur, written by Jemima Khan and starring Lily James — evokes the 1990s in a different way. While not as good as Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999), it has the same thumpingly middle-class, middlebrow feel, with conspicuous elements, too, of Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001).
They were all Working Title romcoms, as this one is, so it’s not surprising that it has similar breezy qualities — even though it hasn’t sprung, as all the above films did, from the imagination of Richard Curtis.
What is more surprising is that it feels so old-fashioned, despite its decidedly modern themes of ethnic diversity and cultural assimilation.
The engaging James plays Zoe, a documentary-maker whose chequered love life is almost as disappointing to her as it is to her scatty mum, Cath, played by Emma Thompson with maybe 20 per cent too much scattiness.
Although What’s Love Got To Do With It? is a decent title for a romantic comedy, it was an even better title for a Tina Turner biopic back in 1993
But this version — directed by Shekhar Kapur, written by Jemima Khan and starring Lily James — evokes the 1990s in a different way
While not as good as Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) and Notting Hill (1999), it has the same thumpingly middle-class, middlebrow feel, with conspicuous elements, too, of Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Thompson gets a couple of marvellous lines, delivered with typical aplomb, but in a film that needs its characters to seem authentic, Cath is more sitcom than romcom. We’re invited to warm to her even though in real life she would be a gigantic pain in the backside.
Anyway, while Zoe lives on a bohemian houseboat (very Working Title), her mum is still scatting about in her childhood home, on the kind of ordinary-looking London street where houses fetch upwards of £2 million.
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THE BAND WAGON (1953)
Vincente Minnelli’s finest Hollywood musical, which is saying something, made unforgettable by the pairing of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. A joy.
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Fred Astaire as Tony Hunter Cyd Charisse as Gabrielle Gerard
Their beloved next-door neighbours are a Pakistani couple (Shabana Azmi and Jeff Mirza, both excellent), whose son Kaz (Shazad Latif, also terrific), Zoe’s best friend growing up and the boy with whom she shared her first kiss, is now a handsome oncologist.
Aware that he is expected to settle down with a Muslim girl, thus not breaking his parents’ hearts like his estranged sister has done by getting married out of the faith to a white English guy, Kaz agrees to an arranged or ‘assisted’ marriage.
Zoe, desperate for a new documentary subject to pitch to a pair of caricatured (but funny) producers, suggests that she could follow his ‘journey’.
Someone offers When Harry Was Forced To Meet Sally as a possible title. But she has a better one, another nod to Working Title’s back catalogue: Love Contractually.
And so the project begins, with an increasingly cynical Zoe shadowing Kaz via a Muslim marriage brokership — ‘I want someone British enough for me, Pakistani enough for my family,’ he declares — all the way to Lahore. In a colourful ceremony there he delights his parents, whose own arranged marriage has been a great success, by marrying a pretty Muslim girl he has only previously met on his laptop.
You can practically hear the line coming and it duly does: Yes, it was ‘love at first Skype’. But of course it isn’t love, and Khan’s script mischievously reminds us of another arranged marriage, in 1981 between the Prince of Wales and her great friend Diana, to hint that all might not work out between Kaz and his new bride.
The former Jemima Goldsmith, and more significantly the ex-wife of Imran Khan, has ransacked her own life in other ways to write this screenplay.
As a billionaire’s daughter who married an iconic Test cricketer (who became his country’s prime minister), she might have found the common touch, let’s say, a shade elusive.
But, actually, she has made a pretty good fist of it, with a few laugh-out-loud lines and one or two more waspish references to racism, as when Kaz says that he must go early to the airport to make time for the ‘random’ searches.
Sure, the film is a little clunky in parts, and packs very few surprises (except that Thompson, unusually, is a weak link). But it is likeable and warm-hearted.
The same cannot be said on any level of Cocaine Bear.
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