Love Again (M,104mins) Directed by Jim Strouse **
If you see one Celine Dion-inspired movie this year – don’t make it this ill-conceived and poorly executed rom-com.
Instead, seek out the brilliant Aline, French writer, director and actor Valerie Lemercier’s wild, unauthorised barely disguised biopic of the Quebec-born youngest child of 14 who become a global singing sensation.
For that’s a hell of a lot more fun than this often maudlin tale that’s an unconvincing combination of P.S. I Love You and Sleepless in Seattle.
Based on 2016 German movie Text for You, which itself was inspired by the 2009 novel of the same name by Sofie Cramer, director and co-writer Jim Strouse (2015 Jemaine Clement starrer People Places Things) never really nails a consistent tone, while wasting not only his charismatic leads – Citadel’s Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Outlander’s Sam Heughan, but also a terrific British supporting cast that includes Celia Imrie, Omid Djalili and Years and Years duo Russell Tovey and Lydia West, by having them all adopt American accents.
I know it was likely a side effect of having to shift production from London during the pandemic, but the result is truly jarring – and almost as distracting as the decision to shoot Dion’s cameo appearances in soft-focus.
Yes, as well as her hits providing the soundtrack to Love Again’s budding, but built-on-deception relationship (though notably they are mostly her “covers”, rather than the original songs) and both children’s illustrator Mira Ray (Chopra Jones) and New York Chronicle music critic Rob Burns’ (Heughan) paths back to reopening their broken hearts, the All Coming Back to Me singer also acts as a kind of emotional advisor for Burns, suggesting that he has “manly hands, but acts like a little boy” and “has the presence of a pair of used underwear”.
But really Heughan’s performance is one of the film’s few highlights, even if his natural charms are as strangled as his vowels, as he attempts to suppress his natural Scottish burr.
Only agreeing to do the Dion interview in the hope it will get him the podcast he desperately seeks, the once-brilliant Burns has lost his mojo since he was jilted just days before his wedding. “Your work lacks heart,” his boss pithily and pointedly observes.
However, Burns’ preparation is interrupted by his work phone receiving intimate, emotional texts from an unidentified number. While he’s simply perplexed, his work colleagues are intrigued, urging him to make contact. Instead, he attempts to use his deduction skills to try and work out who she is, who the missives are actually for and where he might be able to meet her in person.
But little does he initially know, Mira is simply trying to maintain contact with the love of her life – John Wright (Arinze Kene) – struck by a car and killed in front of her more than two years ago. Having just been persuaded by her sister Suzy (Sofia Barclay) to finally move out of their parents’ home, Mira is still struggling with the thought of a world without him.
Cue a ploddingly predictable story involving low-key stalking, awful expositional dialogue (there’s literally a detailed explanation of how dating-app Bumble works), bad operatic allusions, a cameo from Jonas’ husband as a bad date, a revelation and a grand gesture.
Yes, Chopra Jones and Heughan clearly have some chemistry and Dion tells a great story about her late husband’s one big “lie”, but even The Power of Love (awol among the collection of the chanteuse’s tunes featured here) and the presence of Celine herself can’t lift this tepid tale.
Love Again is now available to rent from Neon, iTunes and GooglePlay.