What an effective use of formula.
Originally titled The F Word—”friend,” just as damaging in this case—this film stars Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) and Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). They meet at a party and hit it off, even though she’s got a boyfriend. They both have feelings for each other, and she might not really connect to her boyfriend like she thinks, but they proceed as friends. You know they’re going to get together, but boy, this film makes you doubt that.
Adding to the complication are Adam Driver and Mackenzie Davis, playing the couple that is everything Wallace and Chantry (Radcliffe and Kazan) want to be. They’re passionate and open to each other, and most importantly, they’re not afraid to speak up. There is a certain type of longing in this film, the kind that cannot really be spoken—we never know how to speak it ourselves. The story progresses in the direction you’re hoping, and then surprises you, and then repeats that as many times as it can. Like it should.
The film, directed by Michael Dowse from an adapted script by Elan Mastai, is a modern delight. Well, it is when it’s not killing you and making you wait. There isn’t very much that’s innovative about it, but it’s quirky and most everything works. Can I fault it for that?
Romantic comedies are just not supposed to end a certain way. There’s a saying that all tragedies are finished by a death, and all comedies are ended by a marriage, and we know that by now.
The trick is to make us believe otherwise. If these characters are supposed to get married, it’s your job as a filmmaker to lie to us effectively for as long as you possibly can. What If is a beautiful liar.
What If is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital.