Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
Wallace (Radcliffe) is so fed up with being hurt that he decides to give relationships a miss for the time being. However at a party he meets Chantry (Kazan) and the two form an instant connection, but as Chantry is in a long term relationship with Ben (Rafe Spall), the two just become great friends. However as they become closer friends the natural chemistry they share leads to them questioning what if the love of their life is actually their best friend?
The romantic comedy genre is usually one that seems happy to go over the same clichés again and again without putting any effort in at trying to do new things with them. Well, though I cannot comment on the original play Toothpaste & Cigars that it is based on, What If (originally called The F Word in Canada but changed elsewhere for very obvious reasons) is certainly very happy to take an outrageously unoriginal and clichéd narrative concept. I of course always say it is not having clichés that is the problem, it is how you present them as clichés are often unavoidable, and though What If does wear its clichés on its sleeve, it just about has enough snappy dialogue, good performances and likeable characters to rise above the very tired narrative it uses at its foundation to emerge as a very watchable, entertaining and often funny film.
As the Brit abroad Daniel Radcliffe is highly likeable and though the rather sharp dialogue and the slightly off beat or sarcastic ways his character has of describing things in Elen Mastai’s script could easily make his character seem smug and smarmy, Radcliffe gives the character of Wallace charm and charisma. His character is given extra depth and likeability by a subplot involving his sister (Jemima Rooper) and nephew; this gives decent character development without distracting from the narrative’s main plot and is a balance handled skilfully by the script. Likewise Zoe Kazan is as charming and likeable as her character in Ruby Sparks and the two share not only witty and funny dialogue, but natural on-screen chemistry. Kazan’s character as an animator also adds some animations that add a nice and unique touch to the film and a part of her character without ever being overbearing. Excellent support is also provided by Adam Driver; his character of the best friend that says inappropriate things and gives advice to the protagonist that essentially drives the plot is a typical genre trope, but again the witty dialogue and Driver’s charismatic performance makes sure his character rises above this to be likeable and genuinely funny.
As the narrative goes along What If never grips but it also never anything less than highly watchable, with narrative clichés of the genre ticked off diligently and most narrative developments highly predictable, but yet it is always done with an undeniably likeable charm. For me the main reason films of this genre are so painfully irritating and deeply unlikeable is that all the main characters are so far removed from reality that it impossible to relate to them and the loathsome feelings that come about for them makes the film impossible to like (for example That Awkward Moment) and though of course there is certain creative license with the characters in What If, they are on the whole relatable and likeable. This is of course the crucial factor for any film, particularly a genre film such as this, to work; no matter what contrivances or unbelievable situations the narrative throws at the protagonists, if they are relatable, likeable and you have emotional investment in them it automatically makes the film so much better.
What If will certainly not win any prizes for originality in terms of plot and it is of course unashamedly a genre film and the tropes that come with that. It is of course commonly regarded that there is no such thing as an original story and what is crucial is what is then done with that unoriginal story that is being used as the narrative foundation; well, thanks to the witty script and highly likeable characters, as a one-off viewing it will of course not make you re-assess your life or anything, but it rises above the usual extreme laziness of fellow films of an extremely tired genre to be a genuinely watchable and sometimes very funny film.
Though unashamedly a genre film with all the predictable narrative tropes and clichés diligently ticked off as it goes along, thanks to a witty script and genuinely likeable characters What If emerges above the usual hideously infuriating films of its genre to emerge as genuinely enjoyable and never anything less than watchable.