Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and language
Written by Elan Mastai (screenplay), based on the play "Toothpaste and Cigars" by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi
Directed by Michael Dowse
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver and more
Even if you know how the story’s going to end, the important thing is that you enjoy getting there.
“What If,” the new romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe, fully delivers on that score. The movie is light and airy as a love song, not as unpredictable as it would like to be but sweet and charming enough to make the familiar bumps and bruises more than worthwile.
The plot kicks off with a traditional meet-cute between Radcliffe’s Wallace, a med school drop out who writes technical manuals, and Zoe Kazan’s Chantry, an animator who’s been avoiding the responsibilities of a potential promotion. The twist is Chantry she already has a long-term boyfriend she’s perfectly happy with, a perfectly nice and devoted legal expert played by Rafe Spall, and she simply wants to be friends with Wallace. Though he’d been hoping for more, Wallace enjoys her company enough to agree.
Unsurprisingly, that doesn’t end up working out all too well.
Though the concept flirts with issues that could lead to some unfortunate sexual politics – the ethics of starting a relationship through cheating, whether men and women can really be friends – but the movie doesn’t really care about any of that as much as it pretends to. The issue “What If” really tackles is what it really means to find your soul mate, particularly when it happens at exactly the wrong time, and exactly what you should do about it when it does.
Though Radcliffe gets to keep his English accent, he didn’t remind me of Harry Potter even once. He makes Wallace’s quirks seem like common sense, overlaid with the fatalistic air of someone who knows their life is badly screwed up but has long ago given up trying to fix it. He balances that out by making it clear that Wallace is still a gentleman at heart, and showing us glimpses of the optimist lurking beneath the surface.
Kazan continues her almost heroic efforts to breathe genuine life and personality into the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” concept. Chantry is cute and eccentric, true, but in a movie where all of the main cast is eccentric it just emphasizes the idea that these are her people. Kazan also takes care to ground Chantry with real hopes and fears. She’s struggling valiantly to figure out what she wants out of life, possibly even more so than Wallace, and by extension she seems to be the bravest of the two of them. In fact, Wallace almost seems inspired by her bravery, which is touching.
Adam Driver is almost too eccentric as Allan, Wallace’s friend and Chantry’s cousin, but it’s oddly sweet when he finds someone just as strange as he is. He and Nicole, played by Mackenzie Davis, have an easy chemistry together, and when they brave the shores of commitment it makes it seem possible for anyone.
Yes, in real life happily ever after isn’t nearly so assured. But in this case, you’ll be pleased that it is.
Want to know what Dan Metcalf thought about What If? Read his review here.