Directed by Shekhar Kapur | Written by Jemima Khan | 108 min | ▲▲▲△△
Best known as the director of Bandit Queen, the movie that made Cate Blanchett a star, Elizabeth, and it’s sequel, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, a romantic comedy might seem an unlikely project for the Indian filmmaker, but it’s actually got a lot more going on than might be immediately evident in the trailer. The issue is the parts of the film that cleave to genre are its weakest.
This isn’t a remake of the Tina Turner biopic: Lily James is Zoe, who grew up next to Kazim, played by Shazad Latif. His family is Muslim and immigrated from Pakistan. He’s a handsome, single doctor, and his parents are keen to see him married. Zoe is a successful documentary filmmaker who lives on a houseboat, inexplicably, like this is an Adrian Lyne movie.
Zoe is a chronic singleton, whose mother, Cath (Emma Thompson, convincingly batty), is also on a mission to set her up. For some reason, nobody considers Kazim and Zoe a good match, least of all themselves, despite the obviousness of their suitability to anybody watching.
And that’s the problem. Given the complexity of the material in other corners of the film, this romcom conceit is more than disappointing, it’s practically insulting. Haven’t any of these characters ever seen a Richard Curtis movie before? This is the genre’s most hoary convention!
What works much better are the cross-cultural observations. Zoe decides to make her new film about Kazim’s engagement to a woman he’s never met in Lahore, and off they go to the Pakistani city for the wedding. The drama inherent in Zoe’s catastrophic romantic life contrasted with Kazim’s pragmatic advocacy for his heritage and its practice of arranged unions brings the best from this material, along with a refreshing change of scenery.
This while the more conservative tenets of Islam, or the appropriateness of a white, non-Muslim woman making a documentary about a culture that isn’t her own aren’t explored. Too bad, but otherwise, Kapur’s film has a lot of charm. Thompson gets a few hilarious lines, and a cameo by Qawwall singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan brings something approaching a spiritual moment.
As it toggles between conventional romcom and unconventional explorations of cultural norms across generations, the argument between falling in love versus choosing love is an interesting one, even if there’s no doubt where the movie stands on the subject. There’s little possibility of an alternate path in a romantic comedy, after all.