Love Again Has a Unique Solution to Grief: Immediate and Militant Deference to Celine Dion

Movies Reviews Celine Dion
Love Again Has a Unique Solution to Grief: Immediate and Militant Deference to Celine Dion

What do you do when you lose the love of your life? More specifically, what do you do with your hands? Do you gesticulate awkwardly with them? Do you use them to convey listening, by thoughtfully and self-consciously placing one on your chin as someone speaks to you? These are the important questions facing Mira (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), the grief-stricken heroine of the romantic dramedy Love Again. Chopra Jonas has been acting for over two decades, but apparently none of it has prepared her to play Mira, a children’s book illustrator first seen in loving bliss with her boyfriend John (Arinzé Kene). Almost immediately, John succumbs to a deadly car accident that is, unfortunately, hilarious. Its just-offscreen staging gets one of the movie’s biggest laughs, in fierce competition with several other moments not intended to be funny.

Two years later, Mira still grieves the loss of John, though her sister Suzy (Sofia Barclay) has finally coaxed her back to the New York apartment they share. Missing the intimacy of her previous relationship, she resorts to texting her beloved’s old number which, in either a standard reuse or a freak lightning-storm accident, has been rerouted to the new work phone of Rob (Sam Heughan), a music critic for a local New York newspaper who has seemingly no idea how lucky he is to find full-time employment in this field, because he’s too busy devoting most of his waking hours to that old musical-fanatic standby: basketball. When pressed for his musical touchstones, he names three genres and trails off.

Rob is still reeling from a break-up of his own, so when he starts receiving longing text messages from Mira, he’s intrigued by her soul-aching misery. He uses the information she thinks she’s sending out into the digital void and tastefully stalks her, attending an opera performance on a nightly basis, hoping to catch a glimpse of her – and sure enough, they Meet Creepy, hit it off, and wind up going out on a date.

A lonely weirdo consumed by his obsession with a mystery woman who eventually materializes in a beautiful yellow dress at an opera, and draws him into her world… this is classic movie stuff, especially if said movie was directed by Brian De Palma. As it happens, Love Again is written and directed by James C. Strouse (Grace Is Gone), and he’s here to teach life lessons about love and fate, seemingly dictated by French-Canadian pop star Celine Dion. Dion has a full supporting role in the movie as herself, a role that has all the signs of a cameo that metastasized out of control, not least because Love Again is a remake of a German movie (itself based on a novel) which does not co-star Celine Dion. She shows up in the American version because Rob has been reluctantly assigned to profile her, as part of her upcoming concert at the Barclays Center, an arena in Brooklyn that is here played by an 800-capacity garage.

Dion encourages Rob to take the brave leap into stalking, in scenes where she plays herself as a ruthlessly condescending and self-impressed despot of MOR pop who demands compliance with her every shopworn, nonsensical, pro-love sentiment. This would be very funny if the movie acknowledged it in any way, or if Dion’s performance reflected any hint of comic mischief. Unfortunately, this material – including a tangent recounting her late husband and manager’s courtship of her – is played straight, possibly because Strouse’s joke-writing is as aimless and uncomfortable as Chopra Jonas’s hand placement. This comic deficiency wouldn’t have to be an issue if the movie was truly focused on the messy mechanics of finding love after a heartbreaking loss. But Love Again doesn’t deal with the subtleties of grief, which it depicts mostly as designer moping, with plenty of fashion-shoot-ready wearing of “unflattering” adorable hoodies and the dead boyfriend’s shirts. It misses the painful performance of everyday life, or less Hallmark-friendly emotions, like anger or numbness.

Perfectly synced, in other words, with the failed star turns at its center. Chopra Jonas has a soft-focus Catherine Zeta-Jones quality, feigning sensitivity with an eye on Insta, while Heughan resembles Joel McHale doing a Patrick Wilson quiet-panic face. At one point, Rob self-effacingly remarks about his easy conversation with Mira that “the accent does all the work.” This accidentally explains his performance which, like his Scottish accent, is mild, barely detectable and easy to ignore. Barclay does the best acting in the picture, because she must react to every stupid thing that happens with boundless enthusiasm and delight. (She also has to handle double-whammy exposition lines like “It’s your sister. How’s mom and dad?”)

As Rob and Mira grow closer, he must figure out how to tell her about the text-message mishap that brought them together and now, without really meaning to, we’ve hit the three-quarters mark of this predictable slow-motion contrivance. The various solutions Strouse lands on solidify Love Again’s status as more rev-com than rom-com: In a stunning reversal, nearly every joke, save perhaps one moment in Rob’s editor’s office, falls flat, while most of the sincere stuff slays. It’s perhaps best understood as Celine Dion’s Hollywood-assisted act of revenge against critics, who are depicted as callow dilettantes with vague designs on a podcast (fair enough), and then, in some cases, made to watch this series of awkward gestures meant to comprise a movie.

Director: James C. Strouse
Writer: James C. Strouse
Starring: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sam Heughan, Celine Dion, Sofia Barclay
Release Date: May 5, 2023

Jesse Hassenger is associate movies editor at Paste. He also writes about movies and other pop-culture stuff for a bunch of outlets including Polygon, Inside Hook, Vulture, and SportsAlcohol.com, where he also has a podcast. Following @rockmarooned on Twitter is a great way to find out about what he’s watching or listening to, and which terrifying flavor of Mountain Dew he has most recently consumed.

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