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Love Again is a 2023 American romantic comedy-drama film written and directed by James C. Strouse. It is an English-language remake of the 2016 German film SMS für Dich, itself based on a novel by Sofie Cramer.
Release date: May 5, 2023 (USA)
Director: James C. Strouse
Budget: 9 million USD
Cinematography: Andrew Dunn
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Editor: Jesse Gordon
Love Again Trailer
Love Again Review
here is something about Céline Dion that melts the stoniest of hearts. The French-Canadian singer, arguably the queen of the power ballad, is over the top, completely unsubtle, soaring against the boundaries of taste. She is also cheekily sincere, a true weirdo and so committed to the bit that she makes extreme cheesiness fun.
Such is the primary draw of Love Again, the big-screen adaptation of the German novel Text For You by Sofie Cramer, which packages a throwback romcom starring Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Outlander’s Sam Heughan as a Céline tribute vehicle. And it is, unsurprisingly, the main payoff of actually watching the movie, which marks the 55-year-old singer’s first feature film role (as herself, of course). Dion, also an executive producer, is responsible for a conservative 80% of the film’s comedy and the bulk of its charm.
Which is tough when the majority of the movie, written and directed by Jim Strouse (The Incredible Jessica James), is about two thinly sketched characters in a very strange situation, albeit one ripe for tear-jerking. We meet Chopra Jonas’s Mira in a New York coffee shop, deeply in love with her boyfriend John (Arinzé Kene) and working on her next children’s book illustration. But then she witnesses his death at the hands of a drunk driver through the window. (Strouse keeps the camera on Chopra Jonas’s face, but it’s still too much, and not in the extra Céline way.)
This starts things off on a bum note, to say the least, and despite several sensitive moments depicting the frayed edges and primal instincts of grief (reaching for any smell of them, for example), the film never really recovers from it. But, two years into her loss, Mira must move on. Coaxed into returning to the city by her chipper younger sister Suzy (Sofia Barclay, whose lived-in encouragement picks up the rest of Dion’s comedy slack), a grief-stricken Mira begins to put herself out there – as in, a sub-par date with a Midtown bro hammily played by Chopra Jonas’s real-life husband Nick Jonas. To cope, Mira begins texting her raw feelings to John’s old number, now recommissioned as a work phone to Rob Burns (Heughan, Scottish accent intact), a glum music critic reeling from a broken engagement.
Two things break Rob’s iciness: heartrending text messages from a mysterious person he soon deduces to be the gorgeous Mira, and an assignment to profile Céline Dion as she embarks on her first tour since the death of her husband/manager Réné Angélil from cancer. The former is a a decently realistic and moving premise (I would probably do something similar) given a never un-creepy twist. (Although, to be fair, comparing Rob’s love for a stranger in a one-sided text relationship to falling for her much-older manager on the eve of the Eurovision Song Contest, as Céline does in a scene that left my mouth open, is gonzo logic befitting of the singer.) The latter is a great set-up, both for slipping in actual Céline songs, music videos and iconography and for witnessing Dion hand-act as a subject who turns every interview into a therapy session.
Céline has plenty to say about love being crazy, though Rob’s interpretation of it never feels right; courting a woman while having secretly read her texts to her dead boyfriend is a tough sell. (“This is a big problem,” Céline declares, correctly.) Chopra Jonas and Heughan have decent chemistry or, more accurately, the professionalism and experience to deliver surface-level banter with precise-enough timing to seem movie-level realistic. But unfortunately, only Dion can deliver this combination of cheese, camp, unabashed earnestness and exaggerated sentimentality. On everyone else, it feels effortful and a little cringe, as when a shirtless Heughan belts It’s All Coming Back to Me Now in the shower or when Chopra Jonas flirts via Rob’s primary language (basketball).
As it should, Love Again does conjure some genuine emotion – it’s hard not to feel something watching Mira read through old texts with John to Dion’s music. And it offers some treats for fans of the singer: a shot of Céline shedding a single tear while looking moved, a moment of Céline sing-talking, a chance for her to deliver the line “OK, Mr Underwear” and have it make sense in context. I appreciate Love Again for this far more than I appreciate its merits as a romcom, which it meets in fits and starts consistently hampered by the presence of cheap-looking text on screen (at this point, I would rather read a phone over someone’s shoulder).
The resolution is, of course, daft, even more so because Rob’s personality never extends beyond vaguely liking music, basketball and Mira, and it’s never clear why Mira would decide to forgive such a transgression. No matter – “I don’t really care if you and Rob get together,” Céline tells Mira over the phone, once again capturing our feelings in words. As a tribute to the singer, the frontrunner remains Aline, the utterly bonkers, unauthorized biopic by French actor Valérie Lemercier. But Love Again, by ceding some space to the Queen of Feelings, has moments that play. I can’t say it was good, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.