Director: Michael Dowse
Writers: Elan Mastai (screenplay), T. J. Dawe (novel)
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis
Release date: August 20th, August
Distributor: Entertainment One
Countries: Canada, Ireland
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: Radcliffe and Kazan’s chemistry.
Worst part: The slapstick gags.
Some actors, introduced to Hollywood at an early age, find it difficult to stray away from certain character types. Several hard-yards youngsters have tried and failed to stay relevant whilst transitioning from childhood to adolescence. Over the past decade, one ambitious British actor has radically transformed the stigma surrounding him. Daniel Radcliffe, known for the mega-successful Harry Potter franchise, is leaving the boy-wizard aura behind thanks to ballsy entries including The Woman in Black and Kill Your Darlings.
From a distance, cheerful romantic comedy What If looks like the right ingredient for cementing his leading-man status. Backed up by pulpy horror-fantasy Horns, he, his agent, and publicist seem to be making all the right moves. On track to be the next Hugh Grant or Colin Firth, his ambitious acting style is an ever-changing experiment in itself. In this heartening rom-rom, Radcliffe channels everything into he and his leading lady’s dynamic. Wholeheartedly, our leads bolster this likeable effort. The narrative revolves around twenty-something nobody Wallace (Radcliffe). Having caught his unfaithful girlfriend in the act, our medical school dropout can’t seem to move on. After a year of sorrow and rejection, Wallace searches for anything to cheer him up. One night, at his roommate/best friend Allan(Adam Driver)’s house party, he meets quirky dame Chantry (Zoe Kazan). Stuck in a rut, our leads might just work perfectly together. However, there’s always a catch! Out of the blue, Chantry reveals her close-knit relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall). As per the Hollywood rom-com code, Wallace is no match for Chantry’s significant other. Agreeing to be friends, Wallace and Chantry’s bond grows with each chance encounter and coffee-driven meet up.
Every 3 to 90 year old knows the ins and outs of big-budget rom-coms. From the posters alone, often depicting our leads leaning on one another, it’s easy to decipher every plot-line and character arc. With fantasy overshadowing quality, these movies rely on desperate singles and eager couples giving Hollywood enough cash to produce more of them. Surprisingly, What If takes several rom-com tropes for a spin before beating and leaving them for dead. Sure, this may seem shockingly morbid. However, the movie wants us to feel this way. Looking down upon sensitivity and artificiality, this movie asks the age old question – can men and women ever be friends? Throughout most of this enlightening rom-com, the answer appears to be “yes”. In fact, when Wallace and Chantry act like buddies, the movie crafts its best moments. Indeed, despite the unending meet cutes and fun montages, the movie’s first-two thirds follow a refreshing and respectable trajectory. With the narrative reaching peculiar peaks and troughs, the first-two thirds linger in the consciousness. Unfortunately, the final third, Fuelled by more cliches and contrivances than a Valentine’s Day Drive-in marathon, the climax falls flatter than expected. Throwing in airports, taxis, time limits, confessions of love, and first kisses, the movie drops its realistic glow in favour of studio-driven sappiness.
“99% honesty is the foundation of any relationship.” (Allan (Adam Driver), What If).
Credit belongs to director Michael Dowse (Goon, Take Me Home Tonight) for crafting a Canadian rom-com with US flair and a dry British sense of humour. Brewing a (500) Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks concoction, What If takes a hefty bite out of typical genre conventions. Shocking audiences with its mean streak, the movie throws in much more expletives and sex talk than expected. Thanks to Chantry’s promiscuous sister Dalia (Megan Park) and Allan’s girlfriend Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) inclusion, this rom-com is unafraid to get down and dirty into hard-earned truths. Discussing sex, loneliness, infidelity, and relationships, the movie earns points for not sugar-coating everything of relevance. In fact, as the sub-plots rise and fall immeasurably, its message makes several must-hear points about love and loss. Sadly, influenced by Michel Gondry and Marc Webb, Dowse’s style adds little to the final product. Repeatedly stating the obvious, his animated flourishes and editing techniques outline already-established points. In addition, running gags and improvised lines extend the running time beyond merit. However, overshadowing its minor quibbles, Radcliffe and Kazan shine in the spotlight. Radcliffe, losing his Potter sheen, is enrapturing as the good egg cracking under pressure. Carrying the movie’s slight shade of optimism, Radcliffe radically bolsters his intriguing role. Meanwhile, Kazan’s inherent charisma and awe-inspiring enthusiasm save certain cliched sections.
Blasting through rom-com cliches and archetypes, What If, for the first-two thirds, is a charming and visceral meet-cute-ridden distraction. Radcliffe and Kazan, proving to be alluring lead actors, elevate every second of screen time. Whether they’re together or apart, it’s difficult to take your eyes off them. As action-horror flicks fester August and September, this romp provides the perfect reprieve from everything around us. In fact, if Radcliffe can escape Harry Potter, we can leapfrog Into the Storm and catch this enjoyable smooch-fest instead.