What do you do if you’ve found the girl of your dreams, only to find that she already has a boyfriend and just wants to be friends with you? This is the dilemma facing Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) after he meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at his friend’s house party. The two share an undeniable spark but her boyfriend Ben (Rafe Spall) makes the situation complicated. Can people who are attracted to one another just be friends or does sex always get in the way?
Formerly known as The F Word (the ‘F’ standing for friend), the premise for What If is stalwart rom-com gold but it’s rarely been done well onscreen. When the trailer dropped, you couldn’t help but think that What If had finally cracked that code. After watching the finished movie, you can certainly see that this is one of the better rom-coms of the year. It just has a few issues that prevent it from being the complete win we were hoping for.
Daniel Radcliffe shines in a role that he affably handles with great comedic timing and genuine warmth. Zoe Kazan does brilliantly as his potential love interest and the chemistry positively bubbles between them. The ‘friend zone’ is a great angle to base a film on and Radcliffe really does sell the premise well. Kazan, so often the best thing in any movie she appears in, also makes for an easy object of affection so when the two meet, sparks genuinely fly. The scene where Wallace has to help Chantry get undressed is perfectly handled and their midnight swim in the ocean is a great example of director Michael Dowse making the magic present in every scene they share.
The supporting cast are all solid too with Adam Driver handing in a funny but clichéd ‘best friend’ performance. This will most likely mark the last time we see Driver as a sidekick now that his star is on a meteoric rise. Rafe Spall does well as Chantry’s boyfriend and it’s refreshing to see that type of character not fall into the predictability trap. Megan Park plays the promiscuous sister to Kazan with suitable aplomb and it’s great to see Mackenzie Davis onscreen again after she stole her scenes in That Awkward Moment. Someone please give this woman a decent leading role.
The soundtrack is gorgeous and features a bewitching score by AC Newman from The New Pornographers. The love theme from the movie perfectly frames Wallace and Chantry’s relationship with an affecting sound that’s hard not to fall in love with. There are some great tracks thrown into the mix too, and gives What If one of the best soundtracks of the year.
There are only two negatives to this film but sadly they leave a lasting impression. Firstly, the film isn’t brave enough to follow through with its big intentions and occasionally rests on tried and tested cliché. The dialogue is also a sticking point. At times it flows beautifully and at other times it feels clunky and forced. It’s certainly not a fault to level at the actors – just a tonal shift that perhaps forces What If to be much more pedestrian than it needs to. It’s such a shame because this had all of the raw ingredients to become that next big indie romance, like say (500) Days of Summer – which incidentally still remains the greatest contemporary love story of our time.
What If is a delightful rom-com that approaches its story very well. It’s almost a slam-dunk, but for a few niggling problems. This shouldn’t deter you from seeing it though; the rest is a very well made, implemented and acted comedy with Radcliffe and Kazan on fine form. And stay until all the credits have run because there is some animation (used well throughout the film itself) that tells us what happens to these characters next. In fact, it’s practically a sequel. A great date-movie then, but ultimately this could have been a genre classic with a few more risks taken. What if indeed.