When Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chantry (Zoe Kazan) meet at a party, they immediately hit it off. Wallace walks Chantry home and she gives him her number. The only catch is, she has a long-term boyfriend. Wallace has to decide whether he really wants to be just friends with Chantry and whether he can stand to have his heart broken again.
Based on the play Toothpaste and Cigars by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi, What If (apparently still titled The F Word in much of the world) takes the romantic comedy and does something new with it, putting a new twist on a genre that lost steam approximately 5 Cameron Diaz movies ago.
Daniel Radcliffe finally puts his breathy, Harry Potter acting to bed with What If, and plays a funny, sweet and cautious character, the perfect manic pixie boy foil to Zoe Kazan’s manic pixie girl Chantry. Although that said, neither one is particularly manic… Or pixie like. Instead, we are shown the story of two characters who find a connection with one another, through shared sense of humour. Kazan plays a character who feels like a watered down version of Ruby Sparks, but she still manages to make Chantry engaging and warm.
Adam Driver plays Alan, the catalyst for Chantry and Wallace’s relationship. Alan spontaneous and headstrong, making him the perfect best friend to Wallace, and leading to some great clashes of ideals between the characters. Rafe Spall plays Chantry’s boyfriend Ben. The character is not as evil or sleazy as he could have been, but Spall still manages to make him a bit of a jerk and keep the audience on Wallace’s side.
The screenplay, written by Elan Mastai takes every cliché from the romantic comedy genre and turns it on its head, while still managing to keep the film funny and warm. The big gestures happen, but are missed, the moments for public embarrassment happen, but are skipped, and somehow Wallace ends up being set up with Chantry’s sister. The rapid-fire banter between the characters is where much of the comedy comes from, but the frustrations that develop between the characters feel real and familiar.
Director Michael Dowse has experience with light-hearted romantic films – such as Take Me Home Tonight – and he directs with a light touch here. Dissuading Daniel Radcliffe of his awkward manner of speaking is the best thing Dowse has done in his career, but as well as this, he allows the characters room to grow and get to know one another. The performances feel natural, Toronto looks amazing and – although the reasons for it are a little strange – Dublin is allowed to feature and look damn good on screen too.
Taking a cue from the great rom-coms that have gone before is a smart one, but turning conventions on their head makes What If one of the most surprising films of the year so far; instead of being familiar schmaltz, the film is filled with heart and warmth, and somehow still manages to reflect real life. Of course, it all still feels slightly unreal – and the geography of Dublin is off, again! – but What If is a charming, funny and sweet film.