What If Screen 10 articles

What If

2013

What If Poster
  • What If takes a page—or, rather, the whole book—from When Harry Met Sally..., repetitiously posing the question about whether men and women can be friends without benefits. And right up to its simplistic ending, the film is pleased to regurgitate the contrived tropes of the genre—foreign-bound job offers, a thankless boyfriend, dressing-room shenanigans, a night of communal skinny-dipping—without ever honestly addressing the ethics of romantic boundaries.

  • Unhappily, the director, Michael Dowse (working from a 2003 play by T. J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi), remains committed to his rainbows-and-unicorns tone. Wandering around Toronto (romantically filmed by Rogier Stoffers), trapped in the self-conscious one-liners exclusive to quirky rom-coms, Wallace and Chantry are a talky tease.

  • It has the most mismatched lead pairing in recent memory, though I guess that’s a matter of opinion. I thought Daniel Radcliffe was bland as Harry Potter and he’s proving disastrous in more complex roles, coming off as a smirky, shallow presence without much inner life; called on to flirt, he just looks frantic. Zoe Kazan, on the other hand, I find to be the most expressive, sensual American actress of her generation (watch her in The Exploding Girl from about five years ago).

  • “The F Word” would be commendable on the strength of its unusual wit and warmth alone, but it becomes a far more satisfying (even somewhat illuminating) experience because it doesn’t shy away from the often ugly psychology engendered by cross-gendered friendships. On the contrary... the film pointedly invites viewers to consider the concessions they make and lies they tell both themselves and each other in order to sustain the platonic ideal of the platonic ideal.

  • As drifting, witty twentysomethings, Radcliffe and Kazan have a perfect chemistry and play off each other, which makes the script’s quick bantering feel natural... Weaving in references toThe Princess Bride and using onscreen animation, the film clearly embraces its fairytale aspects and wears its sweetness proudly. As Wallace says, “It’s very easy to be cynical about love.” It certainly is, but Dowse clearly isn’t.

  • The premise is nothing special—just two twentysomethings denying their attraction to one another for most of a slightly padded 102 minutes... And, yet, it often works—not through some miracle, but because of the effort director Michael Dowse (Goon) and his cast have put into making the characters seem sweet and believably charming, and because the movie’s widescreen compositions mount a convincing, all-too-rare case for Toronto as a beautiful and romantic metropolis.

  • I’ll admit it: I fell hard for What If, even as I realized that in an alternate universe I may have wanted to punch all of these characters out. It might have all been a little too twee, a little too smug, or way too dark, but this talented cast carefully walks a very fine line. Thanks to them, the film remains romantic and light on its feet even as it depicts genuine emotional pain.

  • While What If does have its blemishes -- there are times when it's just too cute for its own good -- it's so enjoyable from moment to moment that it's easy to forgive. There's no anguish so delectable as that of meeting the right person at the wrong time, and What If gets it.

  • What primarily matters in a film like this is the charm of the performances and the wittiness of the banter. What If holds its own in both departments, though Radcliffe and Kazan are perpetually in danger of being upstaged by Adam Driver (Girls) and Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire), playing the requisite subsidiary couple.

  • On paper, What If purports to subvert the traditional rom-com narrative by tackling the question of whether a close male-female friendship can remain just that, without escalating or disintegrating as a result of mutual or one-sided attraction. On screen, it ultimately subverts very little, but so uniformly engaging are the performances and above-par the attention to character and dialogue, that its thinly-veiled generic qualities are easily forgiven.

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