Director: Michael Dowse
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Mackenzie Davis
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: August 22nd
What If takes a whimsical look at the dreaded “friend zone” but it wears its romantic idealism on its fashionably threadbare sleeves.
Daniel Radcliffe stars as Wallace, a medical school dropout whose cynical attitude to love is tested following a chance encounter with an animator named Chandry (Zoe Kazan). Unfortunately, Chandry has a long-term boyfriend named Ben so a will-they-won’t-they dynamic ensues when the pair try to enjoy their shared connection as platonic friends.
The film’s collection of oddball characters might swear and drink and deliver sarky lines but they also come complete with the obligatory hearts of gold. Their carefully-constructed “realness” can seem almost too perfectly imperfect at times but a smart script, a steady supply of witty one-liners and some good characterisation quickly draws the audience in.
There is an obvious on-screen chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan and their off-kilter banter and easy intimacy forms the basis for a believable friendship, even if the sexual tension fails to set the screen on fire.
The former Mr. Potter is unlikely to carve out a new career as a romantic lead. There hasn’t been this much awkward Englishness on display in a rom-com since Hugh Grant was in his prime. Radcliffe does sincerity better than most but he often ends up looking a tad jittery when he’s trying to convey passion or vigour.
However, Kazan is excellent in the role of Chandry, managing to subtly convey her internal conflict as she balances her responsibilities to her boyfriend and her conflicted attachment to Wallace. She brings a mischievous innocence to the role and acts as the emotional anchor for proceedings.
Girls‘ Adam Driver exudes effortless charisma as Wallace’s best friend and his relationship with his girlfriend Dalia (Megan Park) also provides a counterpoint to the leads’ repressed desires. The former’s carefree, passionate sex-on-the-kitchen-table approach offers a much-needed foil to Wallace and Chandry’s goofy conversations and chaste urges.
The unfortunate Ben (Rafe Spall) ends up being a bit of a caricature by comparison, getting just enough personality to be sympathetic but not enough to divide the audience’s loyalty.
The film boasts plenty of clever dialogue, even if some of the exchanges can seem a bit over-scripted, and it manages to inject some genuine personality into the main characters. The AC Newman score, the Toronto backdrop and the subtle use of animation all give it a distinctive look and feel and create a fitting backdrop for its protagonists.
The bawdy humour combines with the indie tone to make the film a fairly pleasing affair as it tries its best to escape the cloying shackles of the genre. One of What If‘s most redeeming features is the way it focuses on the journey rather than the destination. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for the rom-com conventions to gallop over the horizon and much of the film’s energy dissipates as it drifts into the more cuddly realm of romance.
What If is like the craft beer of rom-coms, offering a more understated and bespoke alternative to the bland flavours and polished uniformity of the usual offerings. At the end of the day, it may contain many of the same basic ingredients but its quirky charm and quickfire humour makes it stand out from the crowd.