Love Again sounds like a title where novelty goes to die, and the resulting film certainly does nothing to deviate from such lowered expectations, even with the appearance of beloved French-Canadian songstress Céline Dion, making her feature film debut. It’s rather ironic that star Priyanka Chopra Jonas finally gets her shot at a leading role in a big Hollywood studio project just as her brand-new television series, Citadel, courtesy of the Russo brothers, debuts on Amazon Prime; ironic because Love Again would feel much more at home on any number of basic cable channels or streaming platforms, whereas Citadel looks and feels cinematic in every respect. With Love Again, writer-director James C. Strouse slavishly adheres to the romantic comedy template — and all the tropes and cliches inherent therein — while phoning in a visual style best described as, “…” Those looking for evidence need merely take a gander at the couple’s climactic reunion, where Strouse steadfastly refuses to include both actors in the same shot, forcing them to recite heartfelt apologies and declarations of love into a void of nothingness, which incites more unintentional laughs than swooning. Then again, levity is a rare thing to find in Love Again, a movie that bills itself as a comedy but features fewer jokes than Shoah.
Chopra Jonas stars as Mira Ray, a famous children’s storybook author and illustrator who, as the film opens, is enjoying some cutesy and heartfelt shenanigans at a local coffee shop with her boyfriend, John (Arinze Kene). Cue the screeching tires and Wilhelm scream, as John is immediately run over and killed in front of Mira — you know, the stuff all good rom-coms are made of. (“It was a drunk driver… in broad daylight,” she dramatically states later in the film.) The movie then abruptly cuts ahead two years, as Mira is finally ready to move out of her parents’ house in the suburbs and back into her apartment in New York, which she shares with her sister, Suzy (Sofia Barclay) — not quite a lateral move, but not much beyond it either. Meanwhile, a music critic by the name of Rob Burns (Sam Heughan) is nursing his own broken heart and doing a whole lot of whining before his new work cell phone lights up with severely depressing messages from Mira. Turns out that Rob’s phone has the same number as John’s old one, and Mira is texting that number as a form of fucked-up therapy as she attempts to get back out into the dating world. (Minus some pesky details and the yuletide veneer, Hallmark already did this in 2021 with The Christmas Promise.) Rob can’t help but be mesmerized by these messages, which include such deep thoughts as, “I miss your smell,” and soon Rob is head over heels in love with a woman he has never met. He goes on to stalk her — but in the name of romance, you must understand — and wouldn’t you know it, they meet and instantly fall hard for one another. But will Rob ultimately tell Mira the truth about how he knows her?
Love Again’s plot is on autopilot for the majority of its running time, save for the sudden appearance of Queen Céline (playing herself), on whom Rob must write an in-depth story to coincide with her upcoming tour. Dion’s acting here is… well, it’s something that will be dissected by both cinephiles and historians for decades, if not centuries. She is first introduced at a press conference and could be best described as — to use the parlance of the social media age —“serving cunt.” It’s a fairly exaggerated introduction to her character here, and based on the film, it seems that Dion has two modes when it comes to acting: raging diva and teary-eyed storyteller. In both instances, she regrettably presents more like an alien from another planet who is desperately trying to mimic human behavior and failing miserably, emotional and psychological understanding of humanity apparently out of her grasp. She then proceeds to tell a lot of stories about her deceased husband, René Angélil, which is about as fun to watch on screen as that sounds. On the plus side, she at least she still proves a more compelling character than Mira, who is something like a wet blanket crossed with a fungal infection.
Love Again paints itself into a corner from its opening scene because it’s the only one in which Mira and John share any screen time. We have no idea what the degree of their love is save for what Mira tells us, but frankly, she also seems like an unreliable narrator. Strouse doesn’t even have the decency to tell us how long they have been dating prior to the accident. Two weeks? Two months? Twenty years? Mira finds an engagement ring in his possessions and bemoans the fact that he never had the opportunity to give it to her, but viewers are given no details beyond this. Better to spend time on a scene where Chopra Jonas goes out on a date with her real-life husband, Nick Jonas, who plays an exaggerated(?) version of himself, the joke being, “Hey, she hates this douchebag, but that’s her husband!” Clever, clever stuff. Meanwhile, the two leads share little in the way of chemistry, while the film’s costume designer seems to have some sort of personal vendetta against Chopra Jonas, putting the former Miss World in the most ill-fitting and unflattering clothes imaginable and denying Love Again even the superficial pleasures of basic rom-com chicness. The heart may go on, but the brain is long dead.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 19.