Priyanka Chopra and Sam Heughan have chemistry. It’s bubbly, believable and worth rooting for. That’s half of the battle in any rom com and a casting coup for James C. Strouse’s Love Again – which, ironically, features Chopra’s real life husband, Nick Jonas, as the world’s worst date. You can’t make this stuff up. Chopra plays Mira Ray, a children’s book illustrator beset by grief, following the tragic death of her near-fiancé John (Arinzé Kene) two years prior. Heughan is down and out music critic Rob Burns, a Scot in New York who stalks and lies to Mira, all the while colonially invading her privacy. It’s all in the name of love, of course. Hm. ‘This is a problem’ – so says Celine Dion in the film’s second half. Oh yes, she’s in it too.
It is a testament to the sheer brute force of Strouse’s aggressively formulaic script that Love Again somehow manages to yarn out a genuine cockle warmer. That and the aforementioned chemistry of Chopra and Heughan – he of Outlander heartthrobery. To launch into romantic comedy from a springboard of traumatising death – the film genuinely opens with Mira witnessing the love of her life be hit be a drunk driver – is hard enough. To do so by diving into a troubling mire of gaslit obsession is a skilful sleight of hand. Not since Meg Ryan stalked Tom Hanks to the top of the Empire State Building has the course of true love felt so manipulated.
The film owes its contrivances to Karoline Herfurth’s German original – SMS für Dich – and the Sofie Crame novel it adapted. Albeit with the addendum that what Herfurth’s film lacked was a Canadian power ballad icon. Inspired by an old friend’s penchant for late night soirées with the memory of his dead wife, Mira begins texting the contents of her heart to her own deceased love’s former phone number. It’s a form of therapy. What Mira doesn’t realise is that John’s number has since been reallocated…to Rob’s new work phone. If that’s not exactly how phone number distribution works, that’s hardly the core issue here.
Cautious not to embarrass Mira, Rob elects not to reply, thus revealing her error, and instead proceeds to read each message with increasing interest. As fascination becomes obsession, Rob follows the textual cues to track Mira down, first to a bar and then to her late fiancé’s favourite opera. A line crossed could at this point be resolved by a dash of honesty but where’s the fun in that? Besides, here’s where the conflictions arise. Rob and Mira really do spark together. Their first date spans a whole night and the chat glistens. Unlike every other of her dates to date, Rob actively loves Mira’s ‘would you rather’ Q&As. For his part, Rob’s passion for music proves him more than just a pretty face.
It’s not just the happy couple that entrance, either. Certainly, it is the arrival of Dion, some fifteen minutes in, that first gifts Love Again a flutter of charisma. The role itself is rather spurious but it’s hard to escape the megawatt of Dion’s, often barefooted and always ethereal, stage presence. Hers is the film’s dynamic soundtrack too, with five new ballads woven to six readymade classics. Somewhat disconcertingly, the remainder of the film’s ensemble is almost entirely made up of Brits playing it stateside and trembling through shaky accents. Years and Years co-stars Russell Tovey and Lydia West reunite, as Rob’s cheerleading co-workers, while Celia Imrie and Omid Djalili feature in fairly memorable bit parts.
In widescreen, the film sits uncomfortably betwixt a cocktail of the bemusing, enchanting and downright disturbing. The uncritical may fall for Love Again’s charms, even as a somewhat bittersweet aftertaste nibbles at the credits.