We’ve all heard Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” but if you really listen to the lyrics — “Love can touch us one time / And last for a lifetime … Near, far, wherever you are / I believe that the heart does go on” — the tragedy they describe applies to more than just comely Rose learning to live without her blue-eyed cabin boy. Eighteen years after “Titanic” made her a mega-star, Dion lost her husband and manager, René Angélil, and the singer has made no secret of her struggle to move on since.
An old-school, straight-faced studio romance featuring five new songs from Ms. Dion, writer-director Jim Strouse’s “Love Again” is all about such healing — to the extent that if it were a book instead of a movie, it would be filed in the self-help section. Liberally adapted from the 2016 German film “Texts for You” (“SMS für Dich”), the more-creepy-than-cute plot focuses on a grieving New York children’s book illustrator who sparks up a relationship with the complete stranger who’s inherited her dead boyfriend’s phone number. “Truly, Madly, Deeply” this isn’t.
From the consumer electronics company (I mean, movie studio) that brought you “The Emoji Movie” comes a feature-length advertisement for the power of cellphones to bring people together. Cynical as that may sound, the movie is at least genuine about its emotional journey, making it an inspired choice to enlist Dion as both chorus and mascot for romantic leads Mira (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) and Rob (Sam Heughan).
Two years after watching the love of her life struck down by a self-driving car, or else crushed by a fleet of scooters (we’ll never know, since said accident occurs right in front of Mira’s eyes but outside our view), Chopra Jonas’ character is having a hard time letting go. Without realizing that Rob is on the receiving end, she starts flooding his new work phone with wincingly intimate texts — messages about how she misses the smell of her soul mate, and her desire to be naked together.
Rob’s a (severely underworked) music critic, heartbroken in his own way, who’s still getting over being dumped by his fiancée on the eve of their wedding. Instead of being annoyed by the messages, he’s touched by their sincerity, to the extent that he may even be falling for whoever’s sending them. So, like any ordinary guy, he decides to stalk their source, using clues from Mira’s texts to intercept her IRL. In one scene, he looks on while she suffers through a disastrous blind date with an inside-joke guest star.
Enter Celine Dion, whom Rob’s been assigned to profile for the only-in-the-movies newspaper where he “works.” Played by the Scottish “Outlander” star with a disconcerting, what-is-he-hiding stare, he brings a strange energy to the role. Rob could be Alexander Skarsgård’s serial-killer sibling. The only difference between this guy and all the chiseled-abs dudes Mira swipes past on Bumble is that Rob wears shirts — though they don’t appear to have been washed in a few days.
Edgier than the film’s target audience as he is, Rob doesn’t think much of Dion, dismissing her lyrics as sentimental and trite — which even a Celine Dion super-fan (like myself) would concede to be true. Dion’s power is in her delivery: the pure, chest-thumping conviction with which she howls lines like, “Where does my heart beat now? / Where is the sound / That only echoes through the night?” Slouchy and unshaven, Rob shows up to interview the singer, and she turns the tables: “You have the presence of a pair of used underwear,” she quips, her Canadian accent undercutting the comic timing and bite of that barb. (Where’s Cher when you need her?) The movie would be more interesting with some of that “Devil Wears Prada” venom, whereas Dion comes off … well, decent. Hence, the self-help vibe.
There’s not much chemistry between Chopra Jonas and Heughan — and how could there be, since they’re stuck in a one-way conversation for half the movie? Plus, Mira’s texts are just so sad. At one point, after Rob spends the night, Mira wakes up to hear him talking with her younger sister Suzy (Sofia Barclay), and it seems for a second that perhaps he’s found a better match — someone with the capacity to smile. But Mira must surely find a way to love again, and there seems to be potential, if they can just get past their One Big Secret, which will require an absurdly unprofessional demonstration of love.
Again, that’s where love guru Dion comes in handy, playing a barely fictionalized version of herself as she shares details from her real-life relationship with René. Though we see her strong survivor side, Dion’s vulnerability remains one of her most endearing assets — the very same quality that makes her persona too much for some people to take. “Love Again” was never intended for the skeptics, whereas admirers will appreciate the comeback aspect of her first film role. It’s a big-screen romance that aspires to making fans feel the way Dion’s music does, like their hearts can go on.