“It took months, maybe even a full year,” Strouse tells Variety. “There was a lot of thought, eating, letters and lookbooks.”
The Sony feature-length stars Priyanka Chopra Jonas (Mira) and Sam Heughan (Rob) as depressed singles that meet in a not-so-ordinary way after inadvertently exchanging a series of intimate and embarrassing text messages. Dion makes her big-screen debut in the romantic comedy portraying a semi-fictionalized version of herself.
Adapted from the 2016 German film “Texts for You” (“SMS für Dich”), Screen Gems acquired the rights and it came to the filmmaker after a general meeting with Scott Strauss, the company’s executive vice president. Strouse found the film charming and a good blueprint that he could shape up after a few key changes.
“In that film, there’s a larger-than-life fictional singer played by Henriette Boot, and we all thought if we could put a real artist in there it would be more interesting and have their life speak to the themes of the film,” Strouse says.
Dion was at the top of their wish list. Who better to speak about love than the queen of love songs?
“We didn’t know if we could get her but that was always the dream,” adds Strouse, who thought he had a chance at securing her participation since “we’re all part of the Sony family,” he says. “I thought it would be easy. They’d make a call to someone” — unfortunately, that wasn’t quite the case. When Dion took longer than usual to return Strouse’s calls, he opted for different approaches like sending her a copy of the script and numerous letters until he finally won her over.
In addition to a starring role, the film marks Dion’s return to music since her 2019 album “Courage.” In 2022, she publicly revealed her diagnosis of stiff-person syndrome, a rare neurological condition that has forced her to cancel numerous tours over the past two years. She postponed her spring 2023 European dates and canceled her upcoming summer 2023 shows but is still scheduled to make her first live comeback appearance at the Ziggo Dome in the Netherlands later this August.
Hornstein explains it was always a goal to have new music from Dion incorporated into the film — “It’s Celine Dion, how could you not have music?” — but they also knew the music couldn’t be forced, and they had to find a way for it to be folded organically into the story.
That’s where the titular song, written by Dan Wilson and Rosaileen Scher, comes in. The emotionally raw ballad features Dion singing about finding love again after not getting it right: “This is not the end; you will love again,” she sings over a searing piano melody that echoes her previous hits “Think Twice,” “My Heart Will Go On” and “The Power of Love.”
“Celine loved the words that Jim chose and the sensitivity with which he approached her husband’s death and their love story,” adds producer Esther Hornstein. “She was blown away by how Jim envisioned her role and the film.”
While Dion fans might find themselves tearing up over the emotional lyrics of her new offerings, Strouse has already heard from superfans who have pointed out that this is not her acting debut. “Someone told me she was in the 1991 series ‘le fleur de neige’,” he says, prompting Horstein to add: “Well if Celine says this is her acting debut, how can you argue with her?”