Documentary filmmaker Zoe (Lily James) and handsome doctor Kazim (Shazad Latif) have been bosom buddies since childhood, when they lived next door to each other in a leafy part of London. Her mother Cath (Emma Thompson) still lives there and revels in being included in the vibrant social life of this successful English/Pakistani family.
We first meet Zoe and Kazim at his brother’s wedding to which, naturally, both Zoe and her mother have been invited.
Zoe arrives a bit late and when she can’t instantly spot Kazim she knows exactly where to find him: in the tree-house they used to play in as children. And he’s smoking! A doctor!?
Yes, but of course he’s an individual, loves his family and his culture but sets his own rules just like any other young modern Londoner. But then he tells Zoe he’s decided it’s time he got married and furthermore he’s going to let his parents find the bride and arrange his marriage.
Zoe is gobsmacked. Doesn’t he believe in Lerv? She certainly does. But then she spots an opportunity. She’s between projects at the moment and could use a good idea to pitch to the people who commission her: she’ll make a documentary about her friend’s arranged marriage, following him and his family through the process of finding a suitable girl and then travelling with them to Lahore for the wedding.
What follows is fairly standard romcom material, given colour and movement by the multicultural element. The fact that writer/producer Jemima Khan has herself had experience falling for a handsome, high-achieving Pakistani no doubt contributes to this affectionate and nuanced depiction of Anglo-Pakistani life.
It’s also enlivened by some nice satire on contemporary showbiz/pop culture. The two manic millennial money-men who give Zoe the go-ahead for the project are deliciously drawn caricatures. They do a hilarious line in ‘love-your-work’ hyperbole, all the while distractedly checking their phones but not really listening until the pitcher utters a magic word like ‘multicultural’ or ‘inclusive’ or ‘diversity’. Female director? Tick! Subject matter brown people? Tick! Zoe gets her commission despite being white.
I also loved Mo from ‘Musmatch’, who uses the presence of Zoe and her camera to get in a plug for his matchmaking business during the family consultation and has to be reminded that fly-on-the-wall docos don’t work that way.
Emma Thompson does a lovely turn as Zoe’s livewire mother, partying with abandon during the wedding festivities. I found myself contrasting her character with that of Jennifer Saunders’ neurotic fashion-slave Edina in Abfab. Unlike Edina (and Patsy for that matter) Cath’s not in denial about her age, has embraced her menopausal freedom and is only minimally embarrassing for her daughter.
Kazim is an interesting character at first. What he says about what he wants in a wife and letting his parents arrange the marriage leads to some thoughtful discussion between him and Zoe on the nature of love, romance, family and commitment. He also gives a short speech about why being a brown-skinned person in England is still alienating. But these serious elements are soon dropped in the interests of the happy romcom ending.
True to the genre, there are obstacles in the way of True Love. There have to be romantic rivals, and here they abound on both sides of the cultural divide. Zoe meets a very fanciable young vet. He’s kind to animals, devoted to her, but is he The One? And is Maymouna, the bride-to-be, as sweet and innocent as she first appears?
One other serious element is tackled: the exile from the family of the sister who married a non-Muslim. The tone becomes briefly sombre, and a little bit culture-critical, but with the help of some not altogether plausible plot contrivances, some fun Bollywood sequences and one very good zinger from Maymouna’s gay friend, the movie does eventually get there.
But where? And what constitutes a happy love story ending in this modern multicultural context? What’s Love Got To Do With It is a good question, and you’ll enjoy Jemima Khan’s crack at answering it.