DIRECTOR: Michael Dowsewhat-if-uk-poster2

CAST: Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan, Megan Park, Adam Driver, Mackenzie Davis, Rafe Spall, Jemima Rooper, Jordan Hayes, Meghan Heffern, Jonathan Cherry, Tommie-Amber Pirie, Adam Fergus, Lucius Hoyos, Rebecca Northan

RUNNING TIME: 101 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: Hopeless romantic Wallace (Radcliffe) becomes infatuated with Chantry (Kazan), only to be put in the friend zone when he learns she’s already in a relationship…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Straight off the bat, if you’re looking for something that completely reinvents the romantic-comedy genre then your search goes on because you won’t find it with What If. As much as it desire to distance itself from the usual clichés and tropes – which, to be fair, it does manage to do on more than one occasion – it cannot escape the mould from which it is attempting to mock. Yes, of course there’s an instant connection between the two romantic leads. Yes, of course there’s the supportive/unsupportive best friends on either side that give them advice on what they should or shouldn’t do. Yes, of course there are complications and misunderstandings and an eventual if predictable conclusion regarding the fate of their relationship. We know it, you know it, there’s not much that’s new to say about this movie compared to every single rom-com before it.

But here’s the thing: though the substance may be formulaic, it’s all in the execution. What If manages to be a winning visualisation of an otherwise conventional script, thanks to the competent direction of Michael Dowse and particularly the on-screen charisma of its fairly young cast. Dowse, whose previous films have included the decidedly-unromantic Goon and It’s All Gone Pete Tong, has placed the attention firmly on the relationship between Daniel Radcliffe’s Wallace and Zoe Kazan’s Chantry, even having them first meet only seconds into the film whereas elsewhere it would have taken them at least five or ten minutes in screen time. From there, Dowse has the film move forward at a questionably fast pace with hardly a moment’s pause before the next big plot development – it’s a strategy that can certainly tire viewers struggling to catch up with everything, but then again, Dowse seems to be aware that audiences have seen most of these plot devices before so isn’t particularly bothering going into too much detail about them. In a sense it’s refreshing, but it is also understandable if this type of storytelling irritates those who aren’t as quick to take it all in.

Some moments that lean more toward comedy, however, fall a little flat due to their lack of believability. The scene in which we first meet Rafe Spall as Chantry’s long-term boyfriend features some uncomfortably forced slapstick, but the bigger problem is that it’s a situation that no-one has commonly found themselves in so it isn’t as funny to us because it’s unrecognisable in our everyday lives. There are more contrivances throughout the film that fall into the same trap, including a later sequence involving the two protagonists trapped together at night with no clothes on a secluded beach. Again, it isn’t an everyday occurrence to us so we aren’t laughing as much and it feels as if it’s there because the plot says so. Not that there aren’t any funny moments, however; some of the banter between characters can raise a few chuckles and there are some good cases of timing from the actors’ line deliveries. As stated, it’s the script that calls for them to be put in these unrecognisable situations that don’t work as well as they think they do.

But once more, as long as it’s executed well then the rom-com tropes don’t seem to matter as much, and the actors do have enough chemistry with each other to make up for what it lacks in its script. Radcliffe comes into his own as a romantic lead here, feeling like a decent combination of Hugh Grant and Woody Allen at times (in fact, while we’re on the subject, wouldn’t Radcliffe be PERFECT as a male lead in one of his films? He’s got the right amount of charm and bumbling awkwardness that the likes of Owen Wilson and Michael Caine before him have displayed in his films, so if you’re reading this Woody then please get on it!), and Kazan – so good in the little-seen Ruby Sparks which she also wrote – has a decent amount of material to work off of to stand out on her own as well. Both have a lively, sparky chemistry that rings true without contrivance, and they make for a likable couple. Adam Driver excels in the stock “sex-hungry best friend” role, but what’s more surprising is how much material he is given for what is essentially a lesser supporting character in a romantic-comedy. From getting the film’s best lines to even his own little story arc, the Girls and future Star Wars, erm, star has much more of a presence that one would think, especially given his assigned character within the genre.

Thinking back to earlier rom-coms from this year, one ponders why What If works better with the clichés and tropes we expect from a romantic-comedy than something like That Awkward Moment, which definitely didn’t. Maybe the former just had better execution and more charm, whereas with the latter its characters and scenarios were loathsome and obnoxious at best. Perhaps this film just took a more mature glance at relationships, while that one just took the same tired premise and just made it more male-centric. The other alternative might be that there’s no definable answer regarding today’s rom-coms; whether you like them or not, it’s an accepted fact that the formula works in and of itself but it’s not enough. The execution of the formula is the key ingredient, the one that makes what would otherwise be a tired and predictable premise look attractive to audiences – and though What If has its own share of problems, its warm and fuzzy execution manages to mask its other fatal flaws.

SO, TO SUM UP…

What If may not be the reinvention of the romantic-comedy genre we’ve been waiting for, but the execution by director Michael Dowse – if problematic at times – and the winning chemistry between its cast is enough to pass as a satisfactory, if not wholly fresh, take on the tired boy-meets-girl story.