Love Again (2023)

Romantic comedies have so often embraced the “cheese”. Much of a genre narrative often hinges on such saccharine tropes, so it only makes perfect sense that a figure such as Celine Dion, one who owns her own weird sincerity and unsubtle demeanour, would meld her own over-the-top-ness with a rom-com that bases its entire personality around her own contributions to the power of love (yes, song title reference intended).

An executive producer on the film, as well as contributing to the majority of its soundtrack (gotta love cross-promotion), Dion’s own love story provides odd sincerity to James C. Strouse’s Love Again, an otherwise insultingly predictable tale that’s only mildly entertaining when the singer is waxing lyrical about the unpredictable nature of one’s romance; ironic, really, when we can see every beat coming.

Just why Dion is involved in proceedings never feels natural beyond her own insistent shoehorning, but she ultimately becomes the subject for music journalist Rob (Sam Heughan, seemingly unable to emote past one facial expression throughout), a glum Scotsman still reeling from a failed engagement. His defeated nature works well with that of Mira (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), a children’s book illustrator who, herself, is still grieving the loss of her boyfriend, John (ArinzĂ© Kene), two years prior; in the film’s bum-note opening we witness his death at the hands of a drunk driver, though in a manner that hopes to evoke weepy emotion from us as an audience, the accident plays out entirely off-screen as the camera fixates solely on Mira’s stunned reaction.

Though the film never explicitly comments on the correct length of time someone is allowed to stay in mourning, Mira’s sister (Sofia Barclay, whose enthusiasm easily grates) wants to see her move on and smell anything else but John’s old t-shirts. After a failed date with a himbo gym-bro (Nick Jonas, an amusing cameo, if only because he’s married to Chopra in real-life) Mira’s even less inclined to get back on the dating scene, but she finds a certain comfort in texting John’s phone as a means to vent through her emotive state. Wouldn’t you know it though, Rob’s newly commissioned work phone happens to be John’s number, so Mira, thinking her texts are merely going out into the ether, is opening up her heart to the increasingly intrigued Rob, who opts to read the texts instead of embarrassing the poor lass by stating the number change.

As he starts to fall for a woman he doesn’t know, Rob lays his problems bare to Dion – as you do – who he’s been commissioned to profile as part of an upcoming tour; as much as the film would like us to believe we’re in a “Celineassaince” regarding the younger generation discovering and consuming her music in record numbers, it’s all scripted fodder for a story that serves Dion’s discography first and foremost. Aside from the fact that it seems highly unlikely that a performer on their press junket day would start to play therapist to someone they don’t know, not to mention Rob would unlikely be invited to interview such a figure as Dion after proving rude and disinterested in an initial press conference (that’s the journalist in me being a stickler for the ways of the industry), Love Again hopes its cheesy optimism is enough to overlook all the implausibility it conjures.

Perhaps because we seem to be living in a world where everything old is new again and nostalgia is at all-time high, Strouse’s idea that the music masses are desperate for the Dion may be coming from a genuine place of misplaced enthusiasm. It may also explain why Love Again lives in a space that feels as if it’s existing some 20 years prior in terms of how its approaching the romantic comedy genre as a whole; a throwback is one thing, but this all feels insultingly archaic. It also doesn’t help that Heughan and Chopra Jonas have little in terms of sparkling chemistry. They’re both aesthetically pleasing to look at, and it’s not to say they don’t play off each other at all, but so many films live and die off the obvious attraction between its players and this duo, despite a few cute moments during their initial meet, never take us out of the “reality” of the film’s setting.

With certain romantic comedy titles over the last year proving if there’s enough chemistry between its leads and there’s a willingness to surrender to the outlandish nature of the genre, an overcoming of any narrative (The Lost City, Marry Me and Ticket to Paradise, to name but a few) is entirely possible. Here, despite the wacky commitment of Dion, Love Again is not a product you’re likely to fall for; you’re not even likely to settle either, as it’s all too sadly bland that you’d be better off adopting a mantra of the singer herself and stay “All By Myself”.

Love Again is now screening in cinemas across Australia and the United States.

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