BAYI AJAIB (Indonesia 2023) ***
Directed by Rako Prijanto
Indonesian horror movies are a genre in itself. Every year, there are well over 100 films released by the Indonesian film industry with no shortage of films to be seen in the genre.
This means that most of these Indonesian horror films were made in a matter of weeks, which is quite an impressive feat. The one common thread found in many Indonesian horror films is that it is based on local ghost stories and folklore, teaching more about Indonesian culture, the setting often being in Indonesian villages. A few staple themes include class and revenge. Indonesian cinema is rife with angry, vengeful spirits that haunted mansions. A lot can be learnt about Indonesian culture by watching these films. (Editor’s Note: Indonesian films are a personal favourite as my mother’s family lives in Jakarta, Indonesia and speak Indonesian Malay.) This film is shot in Indonesian and Portuguese.
BAYI AJAIB which means Magic Baby (a more appropriate title would likely be Demon Baby) is Award Winning (Indonesian Maya Awards) Director Mako Prijanto’s third movie - and his first foray into the horror genre.
The film begins with a scene in which the protagonist, finding a shiny rock in the river in the village of Hirupbagja., screams: “I am rich,People will no longer look down on me. They will bow down and respect me.” As the saying goes: Be careful of what you wish for. He soon marries Sumi and lives a prosperous life as a landlord. When their child, Didi, was born, his soul was possessed by Albert Dominique's spirit, which was thirsty for blood and terrorized the villagers. The villagers had warned that it is the eclipse and women and children should stay in less they be taken by demons. The baby was born at the moment of the eclipse. Kosim tries to cover up this fact because he is currently running for the new Village Head. He must be able to beat Soleh, who has already won the sympathy of the villagers. But when the spirit threatens his family's life, Kosim decides to free Didi from the influence of Albert Dominique. To do this, Kosim must confront Dorman, a black sorcerer who wants to avenge his great-grandfather on the people who have destroyed his life. Plenty of Indonesian folklore. Director Pronto films often in the blackness of night. The film possesses a great atmosphere of dread, horror and fright in an Indonesian superstitious village setting. The film has a fair share of gore, blood, violence and scary scenes including a climactic exorcism with a levitating body. The special effects are sufficiently appropriate without any over doing.
BAYI AJAAIB opens on streaming May 19th 2023 on Netflix. A worthy Indonesian horror film!
THE COW WHO SANG A SONG INTO THE FUTURE (Chile/France/USA/Germany 2022) ***
Directed by Francesca Alegria
Chilean director Francesca Altria’s first film THE COW WHO SANG A SONG INTO THE FUTURE is an ambitious and lyrical film about the environment, human beings and their connections. If the film’s title sounds confusing, so is the film and it takes a while to fu=igure what is going on. Director Algeria tackles many current social problems, perhaps taking a bit too much on her plate.
The film begins with a motorcycle accident (or suicide?) in a river. The woman emerges from the water just as the camera shows shoals of dead fish on the beach. There is, according to the film, a riot protesting the poisoning of the river by a chemical factory. This is Magdalena (Mía Maestro), who drowned herself decades ago. Now she is back from the dead as if time stopped – still gorgeous, still dressed in the boiler suit she wore when she drove her motorbike deliberately into the river. Magdalena’s husband collapses when he spots her bike suit outside a mobile phone shop. Their adult daughter Cecilia (Leonor Varela) – just a girl when her mother died – drives from the city with her two kids to look after him at the family’s dairy farm. Cecilia has a trans daughter who wants to be a boy, much to mother’s chagrin but these days one has to let one’s offspring choose their gender. Then there is also the relationship between Cecilia and her mother contrasting the one between her and her trans daughter. It is a bit confusing before one can figure out exactly what is happening, not that the story will lead into any concrete solution. Yes, it is a poetic tale and if one resigns the film to this fate, director Algeria’s film works as an emotionally compelling contemplation of nature and human emotions.
As for the cows, there are lots of them Cecelia returns to the dairy or cow farm. As fro cows singing, they might be, but the audience is not shown any of the singing or moog ons screen. One thing that is interesting to learn is that the calves are not fed their mother’s milk or there will be no milk left to be sold for the farm to earn a profit. The difficulty of daily farming is one of the subjects covered in the film. The cows are. however shown to be gentle and shown to be creatures to be cared for. There is a long scene in which a calf is carefully cared for by a human, a very well crafted and naturally charged scene.
Though there is no happy ending, redemption is possible and can arrive in different forma, as the ending of the film shows.
THE COW WHO SANG A SONG INTO THE FUTURE, which premiered at Sundance opens May 19 at the Quad Cinema in NY and May 26 at the Landmark Nuart in LA, followed by national expansion. The film is yet to have a Canadian release date.
DARK NATURE (Terreur Sauvage)(Canada 2023) **
Directed by Berkley Brady
Director Berkely Brady lends her hand into the genre of horror with a totally female perspective. From Calgary, her film is gorgeously shot in the stunning landscape of the Albertan side of the Canadian Rockies.
DARK NATURE begins uncomfortably with the relationship of the protagonist Joy (Hannah Emily Anderson) and her husband. They begin to have sex, but the result is far from gratifying. He is angry and abusive. He then apologizes for acting like an asshole and she forgives him. The same cycle of events, though not always sex related, keeps recurring. He keeps physically and mentally abusing her, and she keeps taking him back. Something's got to give. And it does! This is how the film begins.
The film moves to the present which follows Joy, a survivor of domestic abuse, joining her friend Carmen and her therapy group for a secluded weekend retreat in the Canadian Rockies. Led by the enigmatic and indigenous Dr. Dunnley - whose methods are experimental and sometimes dubious - the experiment shatters the line between reality and illusion. Joy begins to suspect that she is being stalked by her attacker (that could be her husband or someone else or something), when in reality the whole group will be forced to face a threat even more terrifying than the monsters of their past.
The first half of director Brady’s movie is pretty good. There is a solid sense of horror and evil lurking and one can never tell what really is happening. The mystery and beauty of the Canadian Rockies add to the conflict of Joy’s feelings. The girls in the mysterious mountains is reminiscent of the Australian classic horror by Peter Weir PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975) where a group of schoolgirls disappear under the watch of headmistress Rachel Roberts.
Unfortunately things turn south during the second half. Once the mystery is revealed that a monster of some kind is lurking in the hidden cave, the film turns into a monster/victim gory fest. The mystery is gone and there is nothing left to surprise the audience except to provide the customary escape from monster narrative. Of course a few of joy’s company are sacrificed on the way. The other thing that hurts the movie is the obvious overdone male hating theme. The husband is depicted as a totally sadistic villain with no redeeming qualities. The film’s cast is also largely female with hardly a male, good or bad, in sight. Dr. Dunnley’s character is the most amusing with her insistence that healing is her forte. Her mumbo-jumbo medical tactics are just enough to annoy the hell of any sane and rational person. It is not surprising (spoiler alert here!) that she is one of the first to be killed off, to the delight of the audience.
DARK NATURE ends up a two star movie but a 4-star if it ended halfway without the appearance of the cave monster with no explanation of where it came from. The film will be released wide in theatres across Canada and the US starting May 19th, 2023.
LE OTTO MONTAGNE (THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS) (Italy/Belgium/France 2022) ***½
Directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch
It is a long running time of 147 minutes for this epic journey of two males experiencing life and all that life can deliver. The film opens with two boys, both at the same age of 12, Bruno and Pietro meet each other for the first time in a remote mountain village at the base of the Alps. Pietro’s mother rents a house in the mountain village and arrives with him. Pietro is the boy from the city who is always alone and this is the first time he has a companion in the form of a playmate Bruno, the only boy in the village of fewer than 200 inhabitants. Once the first road of the village was built, instead of attracting more people to live in the village of Grano, more villagers left, as Bruno explains to Pietro. The boys play in the mountain countryside, beautifully photographed building dams in the river, wrestling in the grass and splashing water in the streams - an idyllic setting for growing up as boys.
Directors an Groeningen and Vandermeersch realize the power of the setting of the film, which is adapted from the award-winning novel by Paolo Cognetti, portraying through observant detail and stunning landscape photography the profound, complex relationship between Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi), who first meet as children there. Pietro and Bruno remain as boys during the first 30 minutes of the film.
“The next morning my father returned to Turin.” The memory of that morning will last forever.” so says Pietro. Indeed the scene of Pietro, with him, his dad and Bruno is one of the film’s most suspenseful and dramatic scenes. The scene also shows important facts about the boys and their relationships with each other and their respective = fathers. It is a complex and very well thought-out scene and one of the best of the film in terms of information rendered in a subtle manner.
The transition of the two protagonists from boyhood to 31-year old men is unfortunately abrupt, occurring at the 45 minute mark of the film. One would automatically try to associate each man with the respective boys that the audience remembers instead of imagining the men as individual characters. Another topic that is ignored is puberty. The friendship of the two boys is extremely strong with a tight bond formed between the two. The subject of homosexuality is conveniently ignored in the story. One would expect these feelings to surface up in some form or other judging from the fondness each boy has for the other.
The main lead of the film Luca Marinelli, still relatively unknown in Canada, is a famous star in Italy. Quite a few of his films have screened locally at the Contemporary Italian Film Festival.
The film ends up a slow but captivating epic journey of friendship and self-discovery set in the breathtaking Italian Alps. THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS (Le Otto Montagne) is formed in Italian with a little local Italian dialect.
The film is the Winner of the Jury Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
FAITHFULLY YOURS (Netherlands 2022) ***½
Directed by André van Duren
The Netflix Dutch thriller FAITHFULLY YOURS is a film about lies and liars. Every character in the film is a liar and a cheat of some sort. The question is who succeeds the greatest liar of them all. The film begins with the famous quote from none other than George Bernard Shaw: “The liar's punishment is, not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else.” There is also a fictitious book written by one of the characters in the film entitled “To Lie the Truth”. At its best, the occasionally brilliant script from no fewer than three writers, Elisabeth Lodeizen, Paul Jan Nelissen and André van Duren teases and plays with the subject.
Using each other as alibis, two friends sneak off to indulge in secret affairs, but their elaborate web of lies unravels when one of them goes missing. One is a judge who makes judgement in family court, often deciding which spouse wins custody over the children. Bodil’s best friend and herself head to Belgium via train to indulge each other’s affairs, while fooling their individual husbands. Bodil keeps Isabelle’s phone which the husband has put a tracker on, so that her husband thinks Isabel is with Bodil the night. But the next morning, Bodil finds her friend missing with a photo of her friend brutally murdered. The judge becomes a suspect. Bodil has to testify to the police, but to keep her friend’s and her secret safe, she muddles the truth. Things are not what they seem as the husbands are also not as innocent as they appear to be. At the half way mark of the film, one is prone to guess the identity of the killer. My guess of who the responsible one is, was half correct, yet there is much that cannot be predictable in the story owing to the huge web of intrigue carried out. The script also fools the audience with a few false clues.
The sex scenes are tastefully executed without the need to show much nudity and for the segments that nudity needed be shown, it is blurred out and left to one’s imagination. The film is also more gruesome in the description of the murder (for example the fine detailed description of the garrote i.e. to kill (someone) by strangulation, typically with an iron collar or a length of wire or cord."he had been garroted with piano wire”.
FAITHFULLY YOURS is a well written taut little mystery Dutch thriller about lies, deception and murder that holds attention for start to finish.
FAITHFULLY YOURS was awarded the Golden Film Prize. The Golden Film (Dutch: Gouden Film) is a film award recognizing domestic box office achievements in the Netherlands. The Golden Film, initiated to stimulate the Dutch film industry, is awarded to films from the Netherlands once they have sold 100,000 tickets. Since its introduction, the Golden Film has been awarded to more than 100 films. The film was theatrically released in Netherlands on 22 December 2022 and premieres in North America on Netflix 17 May 2023. Worth-seeing, for sure!
FANFIC (Poland 2023) ***
Directed by Marta Karwowska
What does the film title FANFIC (Netflix original Polish movie) really mean? The words at the artist of the film describe it as: a short story masking the wonder of fictional and real characters.
There has been in recent weeks three films on transgender characters - L’EMMENSITA, THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS and now from Poland FANFIC. Each film tackles the trans issue differently and each rather successfully and with sensitivity. FANFIC is arguably the most aggressive of the three, delving right into the issue head on with anger and without retribution. All three films deal with teens transitioning and coming totems with their gender. Acceptance, particularly by their parents, is the key.
Nothing works, says the trans at the start of the film. She is stealing her father’s meds so that she feels better snd will not harm herself. She attends regular therapist sessions but wants to quit unless her therapist gives her meds. “Nothing works!” she cries. And she is desperate and angry half the time.
The plot of the movie written by director Marta Karwowska and Marta Karwowska follows two high school students who create a confusing yet intimate relationship. Each of them faces personal problems individually, sexually. A teenage student faces a major gender identity crisis as she starts growing up. While trying on boy’s clothes, she discovers that she is more comfortable wearing them and continues to wear them, much to the teasing of her classmates. Her father also insists that she changes back to her old female dressing, blaming himself .that he has not spent enough time with her for her problems. Trapped inside her own body, she feels uncomfortable and looks for ways to change herself. Moreover, she also goes through body dysmorphia and constantly tries to cover up the parts that make her a woman. The other is gay, the fact made known only half way through the film when she asks him and he replies that he is homosexual.
The film is a little messy at the start but the film starts to get its bearings after the first third of the film. The film can be praised for the honest portrayal of the emotions teens go through when they question their sexuality, what trans and homosexuality mean or otherwise. There is also a brief discussion in the classroom scene when the sexuality topic is brought up.
FANFIC also deals with the sex issue. Should a girl who trans to a boy have sex with a boy or a girl? The film is daring enough to tackle this issue while many films on trans conveniently avoid the topic. The trans here falls for a gay boy and the two attempt sex with daring and bravery not knowing how it might turn out.
The film gets a little preachy at the end with voiceover lines like “Everyone is okay. No one is a mistake.” The film has already succeeded on its own terms and the director should be confident of that.
FANFIC begins streaming on Netflix as an original; movie on May the 19th.
FAST X (USA 2023) *
Directed by Louis Leterrier
FAST X bears striking similarities to the latest JOHN WICK 4 film, both of which prioritize expensive, stunning, and spectacular action sequences at the expense of other aspects. With a production cost of $340 million and a runtime of 142 minutes, FAST X showcases a nuclear sub appearing in Antarctica, Dwayne Johnson wielding weapons during the end credits, a nonsensical yet sexy martial arts fight between the female leads, and fight sequences that lack continuity. While the action sequences are impressive, the overall plot becomes increasingly over-the-top and ridiculous, keeping audiences hooked to see what director Letterier and his crew will come up with next. From the start of the film, featuring a car chase involving a heavy vault hijacked and dragged by two cars, to a fiery round bomb threatening to destroy Rome, no scenario seems too outrageous for the film's narrative.
Throughout numerous missions and against impossible odds, Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his family have consistently outsmarted, outmaneuvered, and outdriven their adversaries. However, in FAST X, they face their most formidable opponent yet: a terrifying threat from Dom's past, driven by a desire for blood revenge and determined to dismantle Dom's family and everything he holds dear. Dom's journey takes him from Los Angeles to Rome's catacombs, from Brazil to London, and from Portugal to Antarctica. Along the way, new alliances are formed and old enemies resurface. The stakes intensify when Dom discovers that his 8-year-old son is the primary target of the vengeful antagonist Dante (Jason Momoa). FAST X boasts an impressive ensemble cast, including returning members Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang, Jason Statham, John Cena, and Scott Eastwood, as well as Academy Award winner Charlize Theron.
The responsibility for the chaotic mess that is the 10th installment of the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, FAST X, is difficult to attribute to a single individual. Justin Lin, the Taiwanese American director who gained prominence after his 2002 film BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, has had his share of poorly received films, such as the heavily formulaic ANNAPOLIS. However, to his credit, he has directed several successful FAST AND FURIOUS films. In FAST X, Lin was replaced by French director Louis Letterier, known for his work on the action-packed TRANSPORTER films, although Lin maintains producing and writing credits.
FAST X features a plethora of notable cameos, including Dame Helen Mirren, Rita Moreno, and Dwayne Johnson, among others. However, it is Jason Momoa's performance as the narcissistic and deranged villain that steals the show and leaves a lasting impression.
One would think that films would have been done with sexist scenes such as the scantily clad girls posing with the fast exotic cars. If FAST X, a total mash-mash of action special effect sequences hastily put together without thought of narrative, continuity or meaning is the future of film, then moviegoers have not much to look forward to.
IT’S QUIETER IN THE TWILIGHT (USA 2023) ***½
Directed by Billy Miossi
IT’S QUIETER IN THE TWILIGHT centres of the Voyager program.
The Voyager program is an American scientific program that employs two robotic interstellar probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. In the film, the audience learns that they were launched in 1977 to take advantage of a favourable alignment of the two gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, to fly near them while collecting data for transmission back to Earth. The NASA project was approved. After launch the decision was taken to send Voyager 2 near Uranus and Neptune to collect data for transmission back to Earth.
At present, the Voyagers are still in operation past the outer boundary of the heliosphere in interstellar space. The film explains that the heliosphere is the the sphere of the solar system, which contains the sun, the Earth and its planets. Outside is interstellar space where no earthly ship has ever travelled. The Voyagers were to collect and transmit useful data to Earth.
Voyager did things no one predicted, found scenes no one expected, and promises to outlive its inventors. Like a great painting or an abiding institution, it has acquired an existence of its own, a destiny beyond the grasp of its handlers - the words of Stephen J. Pyne.
The Voyager program is covered in detail and is tremendously intriguing for several reasons. One is the awe of space. Space and the unknown have always fascinated mankind and director Miss spends a fair amount of time on the topic explaining the far reaches of the solar system as well as the various planets in the system. Second is the technology involved. The technology is only explained briefly, understandable as the details will not be understood by non-engineers or scientists. But the essentials such as the need to make the voyage when the planets are aligned to take advantage of shortest distance can be understood. Other facts like using the orbit of the planets to gain speed for the voyagers is mentioned but the reason is not explained. The final is the element of humankind involved. 45 years after the launch of the Voyager space mission, the team that dedicated their lives to the mission now must save it. Director Miossi speaks to a few of the team , many now in their senior years to talk about the project. The team members are: SUN MATSUMOTO, ENRIQUE MEDINA, FERNANDO PERALTA, JEFFERSON HALL, TODD BARBER, SUZY DODD, and CHRIS JONES.
One wishes that more of the discoveries made by the voyagers be mentioned. For example, at Uranus, Voyager 2 discovered a substantial magnetic field around the planet and ten more moons. Its flyby of Neptune uncovered three rings and six hitherto unknown moons, a planetary magnetic field and complex, widely distributed auroras. As of 2023, Voyager 2 remains the only spacecraft to have ever visited the ice giants Uranus and Neptune.
It might be quieter in the twilight but in this twilight it is simply amazing. For its subject(s), IT’S QUIETER IN THE TWILIGHT is one of the most astounding documentaries to hit screens in 2023. The doc is available on May 19th on VOD.
MASTER GARDENER (USA 2023) **
Directed by Paul Schrader
Writer/director Paul Schrader has a superb body of work that includes the scripts of RAGING BULL and TAXI DRIVER as well directing films like my favourite AFFLICTION and BLUE COLLAR, HARDCORE, THE CARD COUNTER and CAT PEOPLE among others. His latest film THE MASTER GARDENER which also contains very troubled characters, unfortunately fails to engage and trudges along like a plant seeking nourishment being planted under poor conditions.
Deep within the lush grounds of Gracewood Gardens, horticulturist Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) tends to more than just plants. With a meticulous hand and unwavering devotion, he's created an idyllic sanctuary for his demanding employer, Mrs. Haverhill. Sigourney Weaver). But when troubled great-niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell)
arrives seeking apprenticeship, Narvel's perfectly cultivated life begins to unravel, unearthing secrets from a violent past that threaten to destroy everything he holds dear.
Like Robert De Niro and other Schrader troubled characters, Edgerton’s Roth also has a hidden past. Roth used to be a neo-Nazi and his skills and violent nature, though hidden, are waiting for a chance to re-emerge. Yet this man seeks forgiveness and redemption that obviously will not come easy. Yet, he sleeps with both his employer as well as her grand niece.
The sets and gardens are stunning and make up what else Schrader’s film misses. performances particularly Weaver’s and Edgerton’s are superior despite the slow and messy script that just teases the audience of things that will happen but only at the end but with little shock that is evident in other Schrader films.
MATSER GARDENER had its world premiere at the 79th Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2022.. The film is scheduled to be released in the United States by Magnolia Pictures on May 19, 2023
A NEW OLD PLAY (China 2021) ***
Directed by Qiu Jiongjiong
There are two big factors that initially turn one off from venturing into watching this occasionally magnificent and stunning period Chinese epic. The fritz is the almost 3 -hour running time and the second is the generally little known history of Chinese opera and its function in the twentieth century. But this is education and a grand one in the making. As a boyinnSingapore, I walked to the back of the stage of one such opera and noticed the singers in action, voicing extremely high notes loud and clear, nothin that I have heard being so astounding - an early experience I could never forget. This film A NEW OLD PLAY brings back immediately that childhood memory, expands on the subject and mesmerizes. A NEW OLD PLAY is understandably difficult to watch though not without its rewards.
The film opens in the dark of night with shadowy figures on the screen that can be made up of a man slowly pumping up, slowly the tires of a bicycle. It turns out that Qiu Fu, a leading clown-role actor in 20th-century Sichuan opera, departs this world and must reluctantly set off for the Ghost City under the escort of two underworld officials, the underworld being hell of course. Qiu Fu is familiar with the two escorts, him having performed operas with characters from the underworld - ever so often. Along the way, he meets old friends. As they recall the past, earthly scenes creep into the mists of the Netherworld.
The story is based on the family history of the film’s director Qiu. It depicts the birth of the New-New Theatre and Opera School—in Sichuan Province, in the nineteen-twenties—as a by-product of the civil war and the Nationalist Party’s victory. The troupe’s founder, a soldier and a true lover of Sichuan opera called Pocky (Qiu Zhimin, the director’s actual father), welcomes a seven-year-old foundling named Qiu Fu (Chen Haoyu), rejected by the other opera troupe, as observed in a stretched out but comical dinner scene alike to OLIVER TWIST in which the poor street urchin is derived from getting a helping of porridge. who becomes his prize student. During the Second World War, the company joined the resistance to Japanese occupation. After the adult Qiu Fu (Yi Sicheng) emerges into a star performer, he realizes his dreams. But the changing political times have drastic consequences on the opera.
As power shifts, the troupe is cast loose to wander meaninglessly through a broken world. Despite this unsettled destiny, shaped by war, famine and political turmoil, Qiu Fu becomes one of the finest clown-role performers in Sichuan opera. And yet, one day he finds himself clapped in a pigsty as a political revolution rages outside.
In the director’s own words, the film is a slice of his own history and his family’s; but also a travelogue of minstrels wandering together through this world and the next. They are his immediate forebears, and this is his ‘pre-biography.’
A NEW OLD PLAY, though not a bad film will be a hard sell to Canadian audiences as it is overlong and deals with a subject unfamiliar and likely uninteresting i.e. Sichuan opera.
A NEW OLD PLAY has a digital release on May 16 2023, coming to Prime Video, iTunes, & Vimeo-On-Demand.
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? (UK 2022) **
Directed by Shekhar Kapu
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? is a romantic comedy that delves into the age-old question posed by its title within the context of arranged (or assisted) marriages. The film explores the notion that love can blossom even when a couple has only met once before their wedding, as arranged by their parents. Drawing inspiration from films like Woody Allen's LOVE AND DEATH, where characters navigate the possibility of falling in love despite their arranged union, this movie takes a similar approach. It introduces the audience to the groom's parents, who have a successful arranged marriage and hope to replicate the same for their son with the comical assistance of Mo the Matchmaker.
The story revolves around Zoe (played by Lily James), a successful documentary filmmaker in London who is addicted to dating apps but seems to attract the wrong partners. On the other hand, her childhood friend Kaz (portrayed by Shazaad Latif from STAR TREK: DISCOVERY) decides to embrace the tradition of arranged marriage, following in his parents' footsteps. Zoe accompanies him on his journey to Lahore, documenting his arranged marriage as her new project. Along the way, Zoe starts questioning her own approach to finding love and wonders if she could glean something valuable from the Pakistani tradition.
While the film attempts to put a unique spin on the romantic comedy genre by incorporating elements of Pakistani culture and arranged marriages, it occasionally falls back on clichés. It comes as no surprise when Zoe eventually falls in love with Kaz, as their connection is heavily hinted at throughout the story. Director Shekhar Kapur, known for his successful films like BANDIT QUEEN and ELIZABETH, makes the most of the script penned by British writer Jemima Khan. Khan, who lived in Pakistan for ten years with her former husband, Pakistani ex-cricketer Imran Khan, describes the film as "a love letter to Pakistan."
Adding to the cast, Oscar winner Emma Thompson delivers comic support as Zoe's overly concerned and anxious mother, constantly hoping her daughter will settle down and have children. However, Thompson's talent is underutilized due to the generally unfunny script. Jokes involving FaceTime and her dog's eating habits fall flat and fail to generate laughter. Conversely, Azmi Mirza shines in her portrayal of Kaz's mother, delivering humor effortlessly through her character.
The film's soundtrack, composed by Nitin Sawhney with contributions from British-Pakistani record producer Naughty Boy and musician Joy Crookes, stands out as a highlight. The soundtrack includes an original song by Naughty Boy titled "Mahi Sona," featuring a special vocal performance by Lily James. Kanika Kapoor and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan also make noteworthy contributions to the soundtrack.
Despite a few innovative additions to the romantic comedy genre, such as the incorporation of Pakistani culture and vibrant Bollywood-style dance sequences and scene shot in Lahore, Pakistan, the film falls into the familiar tropes of Harlequin romance, ultimately becoming totally predictable. The outcome of the lead characters finally coming together comes as no surprise.
WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? opens in theatres across Canada on May 18th.