It’s been a long time since there has been a good romantic comedy, and even longer that explored the men can just be friends with women or visa versa relationship. That Awkward Moment merely glossed over it by turning it into one of the many subplots, while Friends with Benefits and Just Friends failed to meet expectations. But if there had to be a film that could revive the men can be friends with women romantic comedy genre it would probably have to be What If.
Goon‘s Michael Dowse directed this sweet and sentimental film that is better than the three aforementioned films but not as quite as good as When Harry Met Sally, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to watch. Thanks in part to the cute on screen relationship between Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan, What If is the perfect alternative to the summer that is cluttered with summer action blockbusters, and even a better film to watch that those heroes in a half shell. Hit the the jump for the full review.
Radcliffe plays Wallace, a dull office cubical employee whose cynical outlook on love and life can be attributed to being burned by a former love cheating on him. His pathetic and sad life is however about to do a 180 as he meets Chantry (Kazan), a cute and bubbly creative animator who is the polar opposite of Wallace. While the two have different opinions on love, they couldn’t be more perfect for each other. That is until we learn that Chantry is already in a relationship, and that she just wants to be friends with Wallace.
To get the film moving along for story purposes, What If will have moments where the two characters are forced to interact with each other, especially since Wallace threw away Chantry’s phone number that was given to him in the first few minutes of the film. An accidental meeting only rekindles Wallace’s interest in Chantry, and he continues to pursue her in hopes of having a loving relationship which can be best described as an exercise in futility.
But that is what makes What If work. It explores those “what if” situations, in which almost every scenario, no one comes out unscathed. Wallace could end up hurt if Chantry doesn’t return his affections, Chantry could be hurt if she doesn’t feel the same way, and Chantry’s boyfriend, Ben (Rafe Spall), could be hurt if she leaves him for Wallace. No one will come out a winner. Ben isn’t an outright villain, or neglectful boyfriend, he isn’t just the right one for Chantry. But their relationship is already strong, and this only complicates things for Wallace as he doesn’t know if he should break the two up or stay friends with Chantry. If the latter, his feelings for her will only make things worse for him.
And what makes things worse for Wallace is that he is a sad, cynical, twenty-something cubical drone who has no direction in life, whereas Ben is an educated lawyer with a full-time job, and many opportunities to advance. So one would think that Wallace doesn’t have it in him to win Chantry’s heart. The film will continue to revolve around these what if scenarios as Wallace discusses the pros and cons of revealing his feelings towards Chantry with his long time friend Allan (Adam Driver). Wallace who believes that relationships that start off dirty will not end, thinks pursuing Chantry will end up only hurting their currently friendly relationship. Allan thinks differently. Though it may seem like he thinks with only his dick, his relationship with Nicole (Mackenzie Davis) didn’t have the cleanest of starts, and they couldn’t be a more perfect couple. So What If continues to find new inventive ways to keep Wallace thinking of those “what ifs.” That is, until the film runs out of the “what ifs.”
And that’s where everything falls into the predictability category, especially when the film enters the third act. Everyone is fighting their true feelings, and are hesitant to make the first move or say those three words. This makes What If just another run-of-the-mill rom-com it was trying to avoid to be. The animated sequences of the character’s inner thoughts only add to the confusion, and feel like they were thrown in just for the sake of being quirky and different.
The one thing that What If has down is the great chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan. The two play off the “we are just friends even though we are perfect for each other” thing every well. But it is Driver who you should be really looking out for. He literally steals the film in every scene that he is in with enthusiasm and a huge burst of energy. His presence is just what the film needs when the film starts to get dull.
For the most part What If is just the film you are looking for if you have already grown tired of those summer tentpoles. It’s funny, charming, and quirky (even though it doesn’t need to be). Sure there are some flaws, it’s not like there isn’t a romantic comedy that doesn’t have one, and What If could have been a lot worse.