14 08 2014

What IfRomantic comedies have been all but abandoned by major studios since 2011’s “Crazy Stupid Love,” leaving any filmmaker with an itching to tell a love story to develop their project with independent financing.  In that realm of moviemaking, the rom-com is either being outright lampooned (as in “They Came Together“) or struggling to escape the trappings of post-“(500) Days of Summer” ironically detached revisionism (like “Ruby Sparks“).

What If,” from director Michael Dowse and adapted from a stage play to screen by Elan Mastai, feels odd to watch in 2014 because it falls into neither predominant trend.  The film is unabashedly earnest as it tells the tale of Daniel Radcliffe’s Wallace as he struggles with his romantic feelings for Zoe Kazan’s Chantry, a close personal friend who happens to be in a long-term relationship.

In other words, it’s the kind of film that might have seemed quite redundant if it were wedged between, say, “27 Dresses” and “Definitely Maybe” in 2008.  But in today’s moviewatching climate, it’s a refreshing reminder of the kind of movie that’s been largely pushed out of the market by tentpole comic book flicks.  Say what you will about “Guardians of the Galaxy” being fun, but you could probably use the lessons from “What If” in your daily life much more easily than anything from the aforementioned space caper.

What If Daniel Radcliffe Zoe Kazan

That’s not to say “What If” has any groundbreaking insights.  The film certainly doesn’t move the needle any further than the pair of 2011 sex-friend comedies,”No Strings Attached” and “Friends with Benefits,” when weighing whether men and women can be friends without having sexual attraction get in the way.  But the journey towards its presumed conclusion is rather fun and enjoyable regardless of its familiarity.

“What If” racks up plenty of memorable moments, largely thanks to the pop of Mastai’s dialogue.  Radcliffe and Kazan trade barbs about arcane topics constantly, though just watching them converse is only fun because we buy the relationship between the two of them.  They feel like two real friends who can just talk to each other about anything, rarely striking a false note emotionally.

The film isn’t entirely a two-hander, as each uses human sounding boards to discuss the developments of their relationship. Chantry uses her sister, written as little more an amalgamation of “dumb blonde” and “single friend” stereotypes, while Wallace uses Adam Driver’s uproarious Allan, a character actually given a life and story arc of his own.  As such, Radcliffe rather dominates the film and wins our hearts.  Even though we watched him grow up before our eyes, The Boy Who Lived shows he’s still capable of surprises and revelations: Radcliffe can play quite the convincing and charming Everyman.  B2halfstars



One response

15 08 2014

Great review! I’m not a fan of rom coms, but I like Radcliffe and Kazan and will probably see this one for them.

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