Cinema Review: What If | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

What If

Studio: CBS Films
Directed by Michael Dowse

Aug 07, 2014 Web Exclusive
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In an era of overly-cynical indie rom-coms, Michael Dowse’s What If comes as a bit of a relief. The Canadian filmmaker takes a one-eighty from his previous feature (the dark, violent hockey flick, Goon) and loops back with a surprising and genuinely sweet romantic comedy. Sure, What If sings an old, familiar tune, but it does so with palpable enthusiasm and without missing a note.

Mopey, dopey Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe, sans magic wand or period costume) is a med school dropout with a skeptical outlook on love. His most recent romantic entanglement burned him badly enough for him to swear off relationships entirely; so, of course, the woman of his dreams steps into his life. The witty, pretty Chantry (Zoe Kazan) shares his love of The Princess Bride, magnetic poetry, and unabated self-deprecation. Their spark is immediate, but promptly squelched by the presence of her handsome, successful, long-term boyfriend. The lovelorn Wallace soon finds himself charting a course through the dreaded “friend zone,” and looking for a way to win Chantry’s heart.

If the plot synopsis sounds predictable, that’s because it very much is. Such endlessly re-digested material would be impossible to stomach if What If’s script were any less witty, or its cast less endearing. Radcliffe and Kazan have a chemistry that’s almost intolerably adorable, but the actors are nimble enough to keep the characters feeling human, rather than like by-the-numbers, rom-com androids. (Writer Elan Mastai’s pop culture reference-laden script is actually funny, and the plentiful one-liners never feel forced from these actors’ mouths.) The movie is given a necessary bit of edginess by its supporting cast; primarily, by Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis. The pair play Wallace’s best friends and frank romantic advisors; when the film threatens to drift off into its own cuteness, these two reel it back in with their energy and down-to-earth, bawdy humor.

Though it can’t be considered revolutionary in the slightest sense, What If is lightweight and hard-to-resist; it's a throwback to classic romantic comedies such as The Apartment, When Harry Met Sally, and Sleepless In Seattle. We may have seen it all before, but What If is good enough to make it all worth seeing again.

Author rating: 6/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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