I was lucky enough to see an advance screening of this film this week, a romantic comedy with a quirky edge to it that makes if feel somewhat fresh, like Ruby Sparks (2012) or 500 Days of Summer (2009).
Based on a play by T.J. Dawe and directed by Michael Dowse (Goon, Fubar), this indie comedy with heart is heavy on conversationalist dialogue, wears it’s heard on its sleeve and is, throughout its just-over 90 minute running time, a delightful story of boy and girl meet, girl has boyfriend, boy wants to make a move but can’t, difficulties in their friendship occur. It seems, on the surface, and on paper, a little predictable and run of the mill, but feels much more out of the ordinary in person when you witness what Dowse has done with this cute story.
Daniel Radcliffe (the boy who lived) plays Wallace, a twenty-something who has recently broken up with his girlfriend, lives in his sisters’ attic and is going through a crisis of confidence in his life. While at a house party held by his best friend, Allan’s (Adam Driver) house, he meets a girl named Chantry, played by the likeable Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks). The two get to know one another over the course of the next few weeks, with Chantry being honest with Wallace about the fact that she has a boyfriend named Ben played by Rafe Spall (Prometheus) and that she wants to be friends. Wallace and Chantry become close but all is not quite as simple as we see more than just friendship being thought about behind the eyes of our two leads. With side characters who try to help the situation by involving themselves, including Allan’s foul-mouthed girlfriend and Chantry’s sister, the story becomes more and more difficult for Wallace and Chantry as they battle with their feelings and contemplate their lives.
It’s been done before, in many ways, but not quite like this. There is an animated element due to the character of Chantry being an artist, which offers a fresh element to the tale, and the dialogue feels different to what you’d be used to seeing in a typical rom-com from Hollywood. Put it this way, at one point we watch as Wallace and Chantry discuss serial killing and poop-necklaces. Yeah, I said that. The music is also nice, and brings an almost-fantastical element to the film that feels fun. Director Dowse, like he did with the underrated “Goon”, has made a film with a gritty realism amongst its quirks and over the top romantic outbursts which offers a feeling of relatability to the characters, and in some ways, the story itself.
Radcliffe, still attempting to move on from his career-defining role as Harry Potter, does a fine job here as the witty and darkly-humoured Wallace and Kazan, as Chantry, is cute and quirky without being too much so. If you enjoyed her performance in the excellent Ruby Sparks, then you’ll enjoy her here too. She’s someone I enjoy seeing on the screen. Driver, as the comical and vulgar friend, Allan, stands out too, offering a contrast to the more polite and straighter character of Wallace. It’s a cast that is a joy to watch and they each provide humour and heart-warming romance that ticks the boxed you’d want ticking, while feeling much more original than any other romantic comedy this year.
I will say that as much as I enjoyed the film, and I very much did, it wasn’t exactly unpredictable, and while it shied away from clichés for the most-part it still went down some very familiar routes, but then it would be difficult not to if you wanted to make the audience smile. I felt like Radcliffe, though definitely improving and shedding his “parseltongue” skin, still felt a bit awkward at times and the dialogue, on occasion, didn’t feel as authentic and free-flow as I think the director hoped it would. Overall though, What If was entertaining, delightfully cute and the characters were enjoyable and likeable. A film worth watching, and the best romantic comedy to hit cinemas in 2014 so far.
What If will be out in cinemas, in the UK, on August 20th.