★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★
Michael Dowse’s What If – originally titled The F Word – is a fun and funny addition to the millennial romcom canon. While the film’s premise isn’t exactly new to audiences, its execution is superb, so you probably won’t mind the predictability.
Wallace, (Daniel Radcliffe) is a down-on-his-luck romantic whose recent heartbreak sends him quietly wallowing in despair. That is until he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party. Have you ever met someone you are just so compatible with it seems surreal? Like it’s too good to be true? In What If, that’s exactly the point. Because despite their compatibility, Chantry is in a happy and long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall.) And while Wallace has feelings for her, just being her friend is enough – at first. Despite their obvious emotional and physical chemistry, the two try to keep things innocent, at a respectful distance. Wallace and Chantry take part in a dance where he secretly longs for her and she ignores and plays oblivious toward her feelings for him.
What’s enjoyable about What If is its relatability. Most of us have felt heartbreak or fallen for someone we shouldn’t have, so it’s easy to empathize for the main characters. The writers and director make us root for these people despite some seemingly unethical behavior. Like when the two go skinny-dipping with friends and make a point to stare at each other naked. The writers also show an understanding of the millenial generation’s way of speaking and sense of humor. This varies from cut-downs, to self-deprecation, to the cheetah-quick sarcasm you may miss if you don’t pay attention.
Take for example their conversation with Wallace’s best friend and Chantry’s cousin Allan (Adam Driver):
Allan: Wallace, this is my cousin Chantry. Chantry this is my college roommate, Wallace.
Chantry: You’re Wallace!
Allan: This is the first time he’s been outside in like a year.
Chantry: Yeah, you do look pale. I just assumed you were like anemic or partially albino.
Wallace: It’s both actually.
Allan (giving Wallace’s cheek a rub): He’s been hibernating like an adorable little bear cub because of his broken heart.
Wallace: Please stop telling people that and stroking my face.
This film is extremely quotable and it wouldn’t be a shock if in the next few years it becomes a cult classic. Some of What If’s funniest lines are delivered by Adam Driver – most famous for his character on HBO’s Girls. Like when he pulls a tray out of the oven, slams down his oven-mit and proclaims, “I just had sex, and I’m about to eat nachos!”
Throughout the film, Wallace pines for Chantry, but not in a “woe is me,” self-indulgent kind of way. More of an, “I have feelings for her, but don’t want to hurt our friendship” way. The big question is, will Wallace express his love for Chantry or suffer silently and lose her?
The Good: Relevant, well-acted and paired with some laugh-out-loud moments.
The Bad: Sometimes the jokes are too subtle for its own good, so you may just miss them.
Final Word: Gives us a dose of hilarious reality in a summer of films featuring CGI and big budgets. If you want smart humor that’s a bit more down to earth than your average comedy, check out What If.
2 1/2 out of 4 stars
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver. Directed by Michael Dowse.
Running Time: 102 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including references throughout, partial nudity and language.