Even though this romantic comedy is essentially a modern update of When Harry Met Sally (though also a play adaptation as well), I found What If to be tremendously charming and even fresh (though I really wish it had kept its initial title The F Word). Yes, you can take a less than original premise and create something that feels unique if you have a witty enough script and likable enough leads with solid chemistry. Both the ever lovely Zoe Kazan and the very impressive Daniel Radcliffe create a pair of likable characters that you enjoy spending time with. Throw in a very solid supporting cast, one led by a scene stealing Adam Driver, and you have no shortage of winning performances to enjoy. Director Michael Dowse and scribe Elan Mastai keep things moving at a top notch pace, so there’s very little not to like here. Now, we’re not reinventing the wheel with this film, so there really isn’t anything awards worthy on display. That being said, it’s such a purely enjoyable movie that you can’t help but smile when you think about it, especially when it knowingly acknowledges some of the foibles of the romantic comedy genre. What If isn’t in my top ten for the year so far, but it’s one of the flicks that make up my top 25 for sure, and that’s not bad at all…
The film does begin with a somewhat standard meet cute, but that’s kind of the point here too. While at a party thrown by his good friend Allan (Driver) med school dropout Wallace (Radcliffe) meets Allan’s cousin Chantry (Kazan). They form an instant connection and spend the party chatting, then leaving the party together to walk and talk. At the end of the night, Chantry mentions that she has a boyfriend and is excited to have a male friend. Wallace obviously wants more, but he agrees and sets out to become just friends with Chantry. Wallace has been burned with love before, so part of him embraces this friendship, while part of him longs for Chantry in a deeper way. At the same time, Allan is beginning a whirlwind romance with Nicole (Mackenzie Davis), partially leading Wallace to wonder if he might be better suited for Chantry than her boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall). When life begins to take them in different directions, Wallace works up the nerve to at least think about telling Chantry how he feels. She has no idea though, so is he risking it all to potentially have something more? The plot isn’t the most original aspect of the movie, but the way that it’s handled sure is.
I could have spent hours watching Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan spar back and forth. They have the kind of chemistry that you rarely get in romantic comedies, or in comedies in general. They work tremendously well as friends, so part of you doesn’t particularly want Wallace to step over that line. Radcliffe gives the best performance of his career so far in my eyes, essaying a sympathetic yet deeply realistic and even flawed character. Kazan is never bad in my book and here she’s quite good again, giving just enough quirk to her character to make Chantry really stand out from the pack. They’re both highlights of the film, while the comic relief supporting turn by Adam Driver is another one. Driver is just as good here as he is on Girls. Mackenzie Davis is appealing here as well, while the aforementioned Rafe Spall doesn’t serve nearly the same purpose in this story as he would in a lesser flick. The rest of the cast includes the likes of Oona Chaplin, Lucius Hoyos, Megan Park, Jemima Rooper, and more, but Driver, Kazan, and Radcliffe are the best by far.
Michael Dowse is quickly becoming an underrated director in my book. Here, he effectively tells an enjoyable story in an enjoyable way, plain and simple. He lets the actors ooze chemistry, while never getting caught up in the “been there, done that” nature of the story. Part of the credit obviously has to go to screenwriter Elan Mastai, but Dowse certainly didn’t ruin Mastai’s script whatsoever. Aside from a subplot involving Wallace’s sister and nephew which doesn’t go much of anywhere, there are almost no wrong turns made by the filmmakers. Honestly, my biggest issue was that they didn’t keep The F Word as their title.
For me, What If is one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer. You always get rom coms during these months, but rarely are they as witty as this one. The film knows what it is and seeks to do its job in a slightly unique way, so I applaud it for that. The flick won’t blow you away, but you won’t be able to resist it, I feel confident in saying that. What If is a crowd pleaser of the highest order, that’s for sure. Don’t pass it up.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!