Wallace, who is burned out from a string of failed relationships, forms an instant bond with Chantry, who lives with her longtime boyfriend. Together, they puzzle out what it means if your best friend is also the love of your life.
THE REVIEW: Back in the heyday of this blog I would always try and devise some themes to the movies I was watching, and February was, for obvious reasons, usually devoted to romantic comedies. It’s not really much of a theme now, since I write so few of these nowadays, but I’ll use February and romance as my justification for watching What If (also released as *The F Word *in other countries).
For those who have been regular readers of my blog, you’ll know it’s not really a secret that I’m a fan of many romantic comedies — I’m a fan of most any film genre in fact, including rom coms. They do come with a certain stereotype attached, but I reject that premise. Part of the reason rom coms exist is because they’re lighthearted, cheerful, and optimistic films (at least by the time the credits roll, there’s always sad parts in the middle). I’m a lighthearted, cheerful, and very optimistic person, so why can’t I enjoy them. What If checks all of those boxes and then some.
Since last year’s Oscar predictions this is only the fourth film I’m reviewing for this blog. As I mentioned though, I would be checking in more frequently, albeit without a written review, over on Letterboxd. I mention this because back in January, I watched The Big Sick, and gave if 5 out of 5 stars — I highly recommend seeing it, and upset I didn’t write a review to link to. The reason I bring this up is because actress Zoe Kazan is the common thread between the two (besides both being rom coms) and she is one of the shining stars of both films.
The beauty and downside of rom coms is that they follow the same conventions, mostly. The story arc is the same from when the eventual couple first meets, a dating/happy period, some reason for them to breakup/not see each other, and the eventual reconnection at the very end of the film. Each film usually brings its own unique twist to keep it interesting, but most fall under similar categories. What If doesn’t do a lot to shy away from these conventions and set its own path, but nonetheless it kept my attention and the characters are why.
Chantry (Zoe Kazan) plays Wallace’s (Daniel Radcliffe) friend/love interest, similar to the story of When Harry Met Sally — can men and women just be friends, or will sex always get in the way of the friendship. Kazan is really the lifeblood of What If (and to a lesser extent in The Big Sick — Kumail Nanjiani is the driving force there, but Kazan still plays a big role). She has this uncanny ability to project normalcy and authenticity to her characters. I’m not sure how much of either film was scripted or improvised, but in both cases Kazan delivers her lines as if this were real life. She’s not reading off a script she’s just saying what comes to her mind naturally. At least, that’s how it appears to me the viewer. She really can make reading her scripted lines appear 100% unscripted and this can be attributed both to her skill, but also to her chemistry with Daniel Radcliffe who also does a great job playing along. The two of them are the perfect leads for this film and the cast is rounded out by other terrific performances by Adam Driver (also seen in the new Star Wars movies, Lincoln, and Inside Llewyn Davis among others — but this is the first role I’ve seen he really shines in) and Rafe Spall.
What If plays out according to the same-old romantic comedy script while also adding a few unique twists of its own. The real reason this film stands out though and would be one I watch again is because of its characters and its acting. Kazan and Radcliffe bring a distinctive flair to the film that makes it different from all the others in the genre, even if the plot points are familiar.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5