VERDICT: The two romantic leads have better chemistry with Céline Dion, playing herself, than with each other.
The lazy takedown on Love Again is that it’s like a Hallmark Channel movie, but that’s not a fair comparison; I’ve seen Hallmark movies where the romantic leads have better chemistry, where the screenwriters have crafted better banter (and more skillfully summoned the ghost of The Shop Around the Corner), and where the fake snow looks more realistic.
(Hallmark has, in fact, told this exact same story — a sad woman sends texts to her dead love, and doesn’t know that the messages are going to a stranger’s phone — on multiple occasions, most recently in 2021 with The Christmas Promise.)
Major studio backing, two attractive stars, and periodic appearances by Céline Dion aren’t enough to make Love Again into anything more special than another lock-step rom-dramedy. Hearing Dion’s music throughout provides a bit of a boost, but as Love Again plods stolidly through its paces with all expected boxes checked, the juxtaposition of the Quebecois heroine merely serves to highlight how Valérie Lemercier’s cuckoo Dion sort-of-biopic, the César-winning Aline, with comparatively winning wackiness, turned the singer into both flesh and concept.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas stars as children’s-book illustrator Mira, who’s madly in love with her boyfriend John (Erinzé Kene, I’m Your Woman). Minutes after he enters the film, he’s hit by a car and dies; writer-director Jim Strouse (The Incredible Jessica James) shows this tragedy by having Mira watch him through a window, and then the camera stays on her face as we hear the accident off-screen while she reacts to it. Very few actors could sell a ham-fisted moment like this, and Chopra Jonas is not one of them. In a film this achingly earnest, the scene dares audiences not to respond with unintended chuckles.
Cut to two years later, when a grief-stricken Mira is finally convinced to move out of her parent’s house and back into the Manhattan apartment that she shares with younger sister Suzy (Sofia Barclay, We Are Lady Parts). Meanwhile, music critic Rob Burns (Sam Heughan, Outlander), still stewing over having been dumped by his influencer fiancée just days before their wedding, is assigned to interview Céline Dion.
Rob is also assigned a new work phone by his newspaper, and when Mira starts sending emotion-baring texts to John’s old phone number in an attempt to work through her grief, guess where they wind up? Despite the fact that anyone getting an anonymous, non-specific text these days is likely to block the number in the hopes of avoiding spam, Rob finds himself falling in love with Mira’s digital laments. He cobbles together clues, hoping to arrange a real-life “accidental” meeting.
He does, and they hit it off, but oh no, when’s he going to tell her about the texts? And won’t she be angry if she figures it out before he confesses? There’s nary a surprise to be had in Love Again, but predictability isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for a film like this: love inevitably arrives at the end, but specific sparks of life — anything out of the ordinary, really — would keep this saga afloat.
It’s in the specifics where Strouse (remaking the German film Text for You) loses his way and leans into laziness. When Mira’s editor (Celia Imrie) pressures her to create a new book that isn’t about grief and loss, that subplot is all but scuttled: Mira almost never puts colored pencil to paper, let alone stresses over her deadlines. Rob works in the most underpopulated newspaper office in the history of New York journalism, but in true rom-com fashion, the movie assigns him a sarcastic woman of color (Lydia West, It’s a Sin) and a persnickety gay man (Russell Tovey) as sounding boards for his love life, as neither of them appears to have anything better to do.
That’s also ostensibly Dion’s job here. She derails their interview by getting to the heart of Rob’s problems, she scolds him into growing up and getting back out there, and then later gets actively involved in bringing Rob and Mira together. Dion is known for her sense of humor — check out the backstage antics in her tour doc Céline: Through the Eyes of the World — and she’s clearly enjoying herself in a film that’s afraid to let her run loose.
London fills in for Manhattan here, and that lack of geographic specificity bleeds into the rest of the film. Cinematographer Andrew Dunn (Downton Abbey: A New Era) seems to be chasing that urban-aspirational sheen so popular among rom-coms, but the shots are often too close and too airless, as though moving the camera back a few feet would accidentally put Big Ben in the shot.
This extends to ideas as seemingly simple as where these characters are from. A scene early on establishes that Rob is Scottish, but Heughan’s burr arrives and departs for no reason, as though the shoot started with him playing an American but then abandoned that idea midway through. (It would also explain Tovey’s strange Yank accent, which seems designed to distract us from whatever it is Heughan is doing.)
Love Again could have used more Dion and less of the sidekicks, but that still wouldn’t fix the fact that the very photogenic Chopra Jonas and Heughan generate nothing in the same area code as a romantic attraction. Both are weighed down by flimsy dialogue and characterizations (this is the kind of movie where the lovers are clearly intended to be together because they both put French fries on their cheeseburgers), but they also lack that ineffable something that the right combination of actors can summon. What we’re left with is an unromantic romance that’s as generic and forgettable as its title.
Director, screenwriter: Jim Strouse
Cast: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sam Heughan, Celine Dion
Producers: Basil Iwanyk, Erica Lee, Esther Hornstein
Executive producers: Doug Belgrad, Sophie Cassidy, Louise Killin, Jonathan Fuhrman, Celine Dion
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Production design: Rebecca Milton
Costume design: Annie Symons
Editing: Jesse Gordon
Music: Keegan DeWitt
Sound: Tim Fraser, production sound mixer/sound mixer; Arielle McGrail, dialogue/ADR supervisor
Production companies: Screen Gems presents in association with 2.0 Entertainment, a Thunder Road Films production